At this time of the year, fear seems to be something everyone is excited about. However, the fear of being afraid and scared with Halloween horror festivities is what people are looking for nowadays, not fear of the Lord.
In reviewing the definition for the word fear, there are two very opposite meanings. One is to be aware or anticipate danger. This definition fits the etymology of the word, as its origins seem to trace back through Old Saxon for “lurking danger,” Old Norse for “evil, mischief, plague,” and possibly sharing a verbal based from Indo-European of per, meaning “test or risk” (which is from where the word peril comes). None of these would fit the second meaning which is a feeling of respect and wonder for something powerful. “Fear of the Lord” falls into the second definition.
It seems strange to associate a word that has strong negative connotations with God, yet Fear of the Lord is not just an idea thrown about in religious circles, but is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In researching where in the Bible Jesus says not to be afraid, I found not just a few instances, but a whole webpage with 365 citations within both the Old and New Testaments that express that sentiment! If the Bible has a verse for everyday that tells us not to fear, why does the Holy Spirit give us the gift of fear?
Perhaps it’s best to dive even deeper into word meanings, specifically that of the word danger. One of the meanings is “exposure or liability to injury, pain, harm, or loss.” If we focus on the word loss, we now get closer to what Fear of the Lord really means. This gift serves as a warning system to realize how precious our relationship with God is and to be concerned to lose it through sin. Through this realization, we are called to be sorrowful for our sins, seeking to turn back to God to ask for his forgiveness and repair the damage that our sins cause. It also prompts us to contemplate God’s love for us. He is constantly seeking us out and bringing us closer to Him. If we receive this gift with an open heart we will be able, through God’s grace, to cultivate the virtue of humility. As we seek to embrace the gift, we also look to share it with others and it motivates us to bring others to a relationship with God.
Fear of the Lord is also counter-cultural in our time. It calls us to recognize the supreme goodness of God and all of the gifts He gives us. This is in contrast to what many advertisements would sell us in doing whatever we please. When we place God at the center of our life, living in fear and humility, we’re no longer obsessed with trying to obtain feelings and things that society tells us we need. Our culture also likes to emphasize the negative aspects of fearing God from a justice and punishment standpoint. Yet we are the ones who seem to be keeping “score” of our own detriment. Yes, we need to be sorrowful, repent of our sins, and lean into God’s grace to avoid sinning again. We need to learn from our mistakes but not dwell in them. If God can forgive us, we need to forgive ourselves as well.
When we are receptive to the Holy Spirit’s gift of Fear of the Lord, all other fears within our culture and society fade from our focus. “The fear of the Lord is like a garden of blessing, and covers a man better than any glory.” (Sirach 40:27) Not just in this season of Halloween, but everyday, let us open our hearts to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, unwrapping them thoroughly and putting them to good use, most especially the Fear of the Lord gift.