Skip to comments.Coming to a deeper understanding of the Fear of the Lord
Posted on 08/09/2012 1:52:27 PM PDT by NYer
In the last two weeks, I have received several requests to explain the “Fear of the Lord.” In the post where I wrote on Hell, some were dismissive of the concept (a doctrine of the Church) as being too severe. Others supported it and thought we had “lost any notion of the Fear of the Lord.” the following week when I wrote on the love of God, some thought me guilty of a soft, mushy of God and thought I offended against the fear the of the Lord. But I do not think fear and love are opposed.
Since the notion has come up several times in the last two weeks, it may be helpful to present this reflection on the biblical notion of the Fear of the Lord.
To modern ears the word “fear” is almost wholly negative. We usually associate it with threat or perhaps with some negative experience like pending punishment or diminishment. And yet, over and over, the Scriptures lift up the value of the “Fear of the Lord” and encourage us in this regard. As you may already know or at least suspect, the word “fear” has different senses or meanings.
Distinctions -St. Thomas in the Summa, drawing on the Fathers of the Church, as well as ancient philosophy, distinguishes different kinds of fear based on the object of that fear. So, to begin there is worldly fear (wherein we fear some evil or threat from the world), and there is human fear (wherein we fear some evil or threat from others) (II IIae 19,2 & 9). Now neither of these fears concern us here since God is not the object of these fears. Our concern here is the “Fear of the Lord,” wherein God is the object of fear.
Now as to the Fear of the Lord, here too a distinction is to be made between servile fear (fear of punishment) and filial fear (whereby a son fears to offend his father or to be separated from him) (II, IIae 19.10) Now it is not servile fear but filial fear that is the gift of the Holy Spirit and which Scripture commends.
Hence, when Scripture says we should “Fear the Lord” it does not mean that we should run and hide because God is going to punish us, but rather that we should receive the the gift of the Holy Spirit wherein we dread to offend God or be separated from him because we love him. This, I hope you can see, is a very precious gift. And although the word “fear” tends to elicit negative reactions, I hope to show you that the Biblical world experienced the Fear of the Lord as a very great and highly prized blessing.
But first we have to be clear to emphasize that the fear towards God comes in two ways but only one of those ways is considered the gift of the Holy Spirit and rightly called “The Fear of the Lord.” Scripture therefore has to be read with some sophistication. It is important to know which kind of fear is being discussed to understand the text. Consider a few examples from the New Testament:
What then is the Fear of the Lord? What does it really mean to “Fear the Lord?” Mindful that something as deeply rooted in love as the Fear of the Lord is, words alone cannot fully describe the experience of fearing the Lord, let me advance a few thought on the Fear of the Lord.
Scripture, in the Wisdom Tradition, and especially in the Psalms, lays out a very through description of the Fear of the Lord. Since the data is extensive I cannot put it all here in the post, but I have attached a PDF that reflects on how the Fear of the Lord is portrayed in the Book of Psalms. What is valuable about the Book of Psalms is that it is largely Hebrew poetry. Now in Hebrew poetry the rhyme is in the thought not the sound. Thus, we can learn a lot about what the ancient Jews thought about the Fear of the Lord, by studying the rhyme. If you’d like to do further study or see some of the theme above echoed in the psalms you can view it here: Studying the Fear of the Lord in the Psalms.
Briefly here are some of the themes explored in the PDF. The fear of the Lord is: reverential joy, stable delighting in the Law of God as a sure just guide, the joy of reverential praise, being open to instruction by God, delighting in Gods revelation, experiencing hope and Gods unfailing love, his deliverance and providence. The Fear of the Lord is to experience an undivided heart, to experience God’s greatness and glory, His compassion and righteousness, His wisdom and power. The Fear of the Lord is experience delight in the commands of God, to keep them, in trust and in love. Each of these statements is drawn from the psalms and the PDF lists the verses that spell these qualities out, qualities of the Fear of the Lord.
Fear of the Lord, ping!
It's a matter of being appropriate, and letting go of denial and delusion.
Fear gravity, fear fire. Why? Because the way they work is the law, outside of, and despite, any opinion. So you fear ignoring that, or violating that, because that way lies death by burning or falling. But the reward for honoring the law? Warmth in winter, industrial capabilities, and flight.
Same with God. Honor God's law. Not because God will punish you for not honoring it, but because you'll hurt yourself not honoring it. Truly, no one ever broke God's law - but many have broken themselves against God's law. Understanding that is the true meaning of "fearing God."
And where God has set up an earthly power, the same principle applies, for the same reason.
Have you ever looked these passages in the orignal Greek and Hebrew to get the precise meaning in the original languages?
2. Deilia; fearfulness (from deos=fright) denotes cowardice and timidity
3; eulabeia; caution, reverence, a Godly fear of "reverence" In general, apprehension but especially Holy Fear.
The Catholic Church compiled the books of the bible. Who am I to contest the translations derived by hundreds of theologians over the course of 2000+ years of history.
Is private interpretation of the Bible condoned in the Bible Itself? No, it is not (2 Peter 1:20). Was individual interpretation of Scripture practiced by the early Christians or the Jews? Again, "NO" (Acts 8:29-35). The assertion that individuals can correctly interpret Scripture is false. Even the "founder" of Sola Scriptura (Martin Luther), near the end of his life, was afraid that "any milkmaid who could read" would found a new Christian denomination based on his or her "interpretation" of the Bible. Luther opened a "Pandora's Box" when he insisted that the Bible could be interpreted by individuals and that It is the sole authority of Christianity. Why do we have over 20,000 different non-Catholic Christian denominations? The reason is individuals' "different" interpretations of the Bible.
Can there be more than one interpretation of the Bible? No. The word "truth" is used several times in the New Testament. However, the plural version of the word "truth" never appears in Scripture. Therefore, there can only be one Truth. So how can there be over 20,000 non-Catholic Christian denominations all claiming to have the "Truth" (i.e., the correct interpretation of the Bible)? For that matter, aren't ALL non-Catholic Christians as individuals claiming "infallibility" when it comes to interpreting the Bible? Catholics only believe in the infallibility of the Papacy as an office. Which is more believable - one office holding infallibility or 400 million non-Catholic Christians who can't agree on the interpretation of Scripture all claiming "infallibility?" When it comes to interpreting Scripture, individual non-Catholic Christians claim the same infallibility as the Papacy. If one were to put two persons of the "same" non-Catholic Christian denomination (i.e., two Presybterians, two Lutherans, two Baptists, etc.) in separate rooms with a Bible and a notepad and ask them to write down their "interpretation" of the Bible, passage for passage, shouldn't they then produce the exact same interpretation? If guided by the Holy Spirit as Scripture states, the answer should be "Yes." But would that really happen? History has shown that the answer is "No." Now, in the case of Catholics, the Church which Christ founded and is with forever (Matthew 28:20) interprets the Bible, as guided by the Holy Spirit, (Mark 13:11) for the "sheep" (the faithful). The Church (not individuals) interpret Scripture. In Catholicism, Scripture is there for meditation, prayer and inspiration, not for individual interpretation to formulate doctrine or dogma.
Pagan holidays were turned into holy days. Is that what you are talking about?
I really don’t think the Catholic Church is big on paganism.
Have you ever attended a Catholic Mass? I invite you to do so. If Scott Hahn was converted, who knows what might happen to you?
Of which 'pagan' practices do you accuse the Catholic Church?
I'm afraid you have your historical facts wrong. Constantine established a general freedom of religion in the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. This effectively legalized Christianity and ended persecution. It did not found the Church. The Church had been fully established and functional for nearly three centuries and was already on its 32nd pope (St. Miltiades) when Constantine allegedly founded it.
If goodness be found among the pagans embrace it because everything good is of God. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
CCC 843 The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life."
CCC 1954 Man participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie:
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every man, because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin . . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted.
Peace be with you
Believe it or not, I try not to get involved in these Catholic vs. Protestant arguments as much as I used to. For one thing, they're both wrong, while it's hard to rebuke one position without seeming to endorse the other.
But I have a visceral reaction to the blithe dismissal of pagan practices in the Catholic Church with such words as those quoted above (or Augustine's silly invocation of the despoiling of the Egyptians). Bluntly, I don't think most Catholics have the foggiest idea what the objections are based on.
The larger part of the chrstian bible is the Hebrew Bible/"old testament." In that large section the Jewish calendar, ceremonial, and ritual is laid out in an open manner. The entire "old testament" is about the Jews and Judaism, not chrstianity. Jerusalem is the holy city, the qorbanot (offerings) are the service, and everything goes according to a calendar that G-d gave Moses.
Then you have the "new testament." This section contains four biographies of J*sus, one brief historical book capturing the chrstian church at the moment of its birth (Acts), 21 theological epistles, and one book of apocalyptic prophecy. In all this there not a word about the chrstian world that allegedly took Judaism's place. There is no pope in Rome, no instructions about a service other than a few "do this in remembrence of me"'s. There is certainly no "new testament" version of Leviticus. And there's not a word about a calendar or holidays. Instead, Paul seems simply to (chas vechalilah!) nullify all the rituals, ceremonials, and holy days of the "old testament." But he doesn't replace them with anything.
This is why Fundamentalist Protestants tend to be either antinomians or Judaizers. On the one hand, the old rituals (which the Bible is full of) seem to be "done away with;" on the other, Biblical sentimentalism towards these Biblical Jewish things is strong. And if the old Jewish rituals do no good, at least continuing to observe them does no harm, surely?
But this is the problem with historical, "Catholic" chrstianity. It rejects both Judaization and antinomianism (the only two Biblical options). It musters all Paul's antinomian arguments against the Biblical (Jewish) ceremonial, declaring them positively abrogated. Not only do they do not good, but observing them is positively forbidden, and it then declares mandatory a ceremonial that rotates around a calendar of pagan European origin. I'm sorry, but to anyone from a Fundamentalist Protestant perspective this makes absolutely no sense. The Bible gives the Jewish ceremonial in great detail; the "new testament" declares them null and void. Therefore the only two Biblical positions are Judaization or antinomianism (no ceremonial or calendar, salvation by "faith alone"). But to reject both and insist on the need to observe a "new law" that can't be found anywhere in the chrstian bible? Honestly, don't you think the chrstian "gxd" could have said something indicating this position somewhere in the "new testament?"
Where does the chrstian calendar come from? It's the old pagan Roman calendar (why do you suppose the months are named for pagan "gxds" and Roman emperors?)? Couldn't there be somewhere in the chrstian scriptures the tiniest allusion to "on the 25th day of the twelfth month ye shall observe a mass at midnight, a mass in the morning, and a mass at mid-day; neither shall ye do any servile work thereon?" But there's absolutely nothing there. Biblically, the only two positions are the Jewish rituals, or none at all (according to Paul).
I would like to ask all Catholics/Orthodox a simple question. Do you all think that the church's Julian calendar sprang up full-blown on the first easter? Do you think the original twelve apostles immediately began observing advent, epiphany, or the ember or rogation days? Surely no Catholic/Orthodox will say such a thing; surely they will all admit that these things didn't begin to develop until after the deaths of the twelve original apostles.
In fact, somewhere in the epistles of Paul (I don't remember where) there's a discussion about those who "esteem some days more than others" and those who "esteem all days equally." This was not a reference to the chrstian calendar (which hadn't even begun to develop, other than perhaps the Passover-easter observance), but refers to chrstians who observed Jewish holy days and those who did not . . . that is to say, Judaizers and antinomians, the same two positions taken by Fundamentalist Protestants to this day.
I reiterate: no wonder Fundamentalist Protestants don't understand historical chrstianity. The once-mandated religion and rituals are declared positively evil, and in place of Paul's antinomianism a new calendar and ceremonial drawn from Roman/European culture is adopted and made mandatory. This contradicts both Biblical alternatives.
Yes, the Catholic/Orthodox Church is indeed the historical chrstian church; I don't deny that a bit. But the the fact is that the true historical chrstian church is nuts.
I wonder if any Catholic/Orthodox theologian has ever thought about these issues. Was the Roman calendar adopted only because the Jews rejected chrstianity? If they had (chas vechalilah!) accepted chrstianity and become the core of "the new Israel," would all chrstians be observing chrstianized versions of the Jewish holidays on the Jewish calendar? I honestly want to know.
Now--one final thing. Another problem I have with the blithe dismissal of Fundamentalist Protestant rejection of pagan things with an appeal to "good wherever it is found" is a far more personal one. It strikes me that the Catholic/Orthodox Church is willing to adopt anything from anyone, but the two things they draw the line at are Biblical ceremonial and the truth of the Biblical narrative. Catholic Churches have erected totem poles because they represent "the good the Indians already had" but they absolutely slam the door on 1)Jewish rituals and 2)the truth of Genesis 1-11, the Book of Jonah, the Book of Daniel, etc. To be open to everything other than these things (which is in the Catholic/Orthodox bible) is the absolute height of hypocrisy.
People who are scared to death that Jonah's fish will send millions of Catholic/Orthodox souls to "hell" have no business gushing over totem poles.
There. I don't know if you'll understand what I've said, but I've tried my best. I'm pinging wideawake because he's more likely than anyone else to understand.
Bluntly, I really don't care what you think because as far as I am concerned anyone who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior is pagan. Those who know of the Gospels and still reject them are worse than pagans who possess a salvific ignorance (Luke 23:34). I do pray that you change your thinking.
Peace be with you
Wow, did this ever get off topic. Back to the original thread topic, I have truly come to view the fear of the Lord in the same way that I feared my Dad. He very seldom punished me, only when I deserved it, but I always new when something I did pleased him or disappointed him. It saddened me when I would disappoint him, and whenever I did something that pleased him, I would be overjoyed. It is the same way with God. As we pray in the Act of Contrition, we detest our sins because of God’s just punishment, but most of all, because they offend God, who is all good and deserving of all our love. The fear I have is to be separated from God’s love.
You think like an evangelical.
It seems to me that Catholics tend to have a very low view of the bible in general. Its as if they believe the authors of the bible were free to write whatever they wanted and so likewise, Rome has the authority teach whatever it wants to as well.
::Sigh:: I was only trying my best to explain the differences in the Catholic and Protestant religions that are so deeply rooted in each religion that they are never brought up. Protestants think Catholics proceed on Protestant presuppositions and Catholics think Protestants proceed on Protestant presuppositions. They don't. Until the two sides address this issue they will never understand one another. But thank you so much for your blunt, unthinking rejection of my own experience in both traditions. That was really so sweet of you. /s
Those who know of the Gospels and still reject them are worse than pagans who possess a salvific ignorance (Luke 23:34). I do pray that you change your thinking
Why? Why should I believe the gospels? Am I supposed to assume their truth as a fundamental presupposition, with no rational support at all? If so, why shouldn't I accept the koran, the book of mormon, or any other religious book?
It's useless trying to talk to any of you people.
The birth, death, resurrection and ministry of Jesus Christ is prophesied over 450 times in the Tanakh. All were fulfilled in the Gospels. Peace be with you