The fear of the Lord leads to life;
then one rests content, untouched by trouble.
The “fear of the Lord” is not a popular concept in modern Christianity. We associate such an idea with pagan religion in which worshippers cringe before an idol in terror or a slave trembling before a cruel master. And yet Scripture portrays the fear of the Lord as something to desire. As the proverb says, it “leads to life.”
Some say “fear” should be understood as “respect.” Fear does include respect, but there is more to it than that. When Isaiah “saw the Lord” (cf. Isaiah 6:1ff), he did not pay his respect to God; he cried out, “Woe is me!” When John saw “one like a son of man” (cf. Revelation 1:12ff), he did not politely bow his head. And yet, neither man experienced the sense of terror one feels in the presence of mere power or of evil.
C. S. Lewis’ depiction of a holy fear is helpful in understanding the fear of the Lord. In Perelandra he describes the feeling of coming in the presence of an “eldil,” what we would know as an arch-angel.
“My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call ‘good,’ but I wasn’t sure whether I liked ‘goodness’ so much as I had supposed… Here at last was a bit of that world from beyond the world, which I had always supposed that I loved and desired, breaking through and appearing to my senses: and I didn’t like it, I wanted it to go away. I wanted every possible distance, gulf, curtain, blanket, and barrier to be placed between it and me. But I did not fall quite into the gulf. Oddly enough my very sense of helplessness saved me and steadied me. For now I was quite obviously ‘drawn in.’ The struggle was over. The next decision did not lie with me.”
Lewis picks up on why the fear of the Lord allows one to rest satisfied. For what really happens is not that we break through to good, but that “Good” breaks through to us, forcing us to be helpless, forcing us to let the “next decision” lie with God. There is a sense that we cannot trust God until we fear him; we cannot really love God for who he is until we understand what it is to fear him. We cannot really know fear until we behold the “one like a son of man” dying on a cross for our sin.
When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— 11 the name of the star is Wormwood.[a] A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”