Fear of the Lord: reverence and awe for God; the recognition of His supreme authority that leads to obedience to His Word; to hate evil
Knowledge: awareness of Truth learned from the revelations of His Word; the experience gained by living according to Truth and abiding in the Holy Spirit
Wisdom: understanding Truth, seeing as God sees; the application of knowledge
As we begin our pursuit of virtue, let us be reminded of the circular nature of this pursuit. Though we begin here, there is no definitive starting point, and no ending point to signify completion of our task. How we individually come to pursue the goodness of God is unique to each of us. We begin with these three virtues because they seem the most foundational for our purposes here, while all that follow are predicated upon an appreciation of these even though we can hardly speak of these without alluding to those that follow. Likewise, on subsequent readings, our understanding of the virtues discussed in the chapters ahead will undoubtedly give us a greater appreciation for the virtues we introduce here. We commence with the fear of the Lord which elevates God to His rightful place in our hearts, then onto knowledge which distinguishes Truth from all manner of deception, and then learn of wisdom which rightly divides the holy from the profane.
Fear of the Lord
Fear of the Lord has many facets. Among them we find reverence, awe, humility, obedience (pursuing goodness while abstaining from evil), and being paralyzed in fright. This is not to suggest that we fear God as we would lions, tigers and bears whose intent is to eat us for dinner, nor fear Him as a cruel punisher of misdeeds who just waits to zap us with lightning bolts upon our next misstep. No, God loves us and disciplines us as needed for the benefit of our spiritual growth, and our fear is more akin to respect for the immensity of His power and acknowledgment of our puniness and feebleness before Him. Like standing at the edge of a great precipice or on ground quaking from an erupting volcano, this type of fear is instinctive and born of our vulnerability and powerlessness before that which is immensely greater than we are. However, unlike the forces of nature that are obvious, God is spirit and the flesh of humanity has the capacity to ignore Him. The children of God choose to fear Him. Those who choose to defy God or reject His revelation, incur the terror of His wrath in ignorance. Furthermore, we neither profane His providential care by attributing it to luck or coincidence, nor do we fail to see God as Lord of all. We believe God is all knowing, all-powerful and ever-present.
Initially, our fear of the Lord is acknowledging His being, followed by the realization of His power, and then an appreciation of the implications of His omnipotence, omniscience, and presence everywhere at all times. The initial fear may not be much more than the admission that God exists and therefore the rules of life are not determined by us; an acknowledgement that God is the final authority of creation, not man. This may come from observing creation, noting the order and detailed design, and then deciding there is a Creator whose beautiful handiwork is certainly neither arbitrary nor random. Or, maybe on a personal level, we notice that we cannot selfishly mistreat others without subjecting our conscience to various anxieties and emotional stresses. Then from this awareness of innate moral influence, become conscious of God. Regardless of how the fear of God originates, without acknowledging the revelation of His Word, there is only speculation. Both the Truth of God, and how a person should respond to Him, remains hidden until we are educated by revelation. Therefore, knowledge of God from revelation is required to develop our fear of God righteously and in Truth.
As we learn to fear God from the revelation of His Word, we are confronted by His holiness; a totally nebulous concept in the secular world for there is no meaning or application of holiness apart from God. Occasionally in nature, we may experience something so beautiful, so wondrous, so awe inspiring, so delicate, so intricate, so captivating, so rare, so unique, so undefiled, so intimate, and so pure that we may get a small taste of what it means to partake of His holy presence (witnessing childbirth seems to have this effect on many souls). However, without fear and knowledge of God the insight is lost in the ignorance of holiness. As children of God, we enter into His presence and are in the midst of His holiness whenever we abide in prayer. We sense His presence more keenly when we enter into sacred places. At these times, the filth of our sin and our failures before God become all too apparent to us. God is holy; unclean things can not exist in His presence. However, from the revelation of scripture, we learn that God has provided for us and that we must accept His provision in order to be with Him. Accepting Christ Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior is to receive the gift of reconciliation that God offers to all human souls (Jn.3:16-17). In Christ, we are forgiven and cleansed of our sin; in Christ, we have the righteousness of God that allows us to enter into His presence; in Christ, we are redeemed and restored and able to live in communion with Him (1Cor.1:30-31, Jude 1:24-25, Eph.4:24). May our praise be to God for His infinite mercy.
When God created the heavens and the Earth, He declared that it was good (Gen.1-2). The imprint of His holiness upon all creation causes our conscience to be disturbed when we violate its natural order. Responding to this innate sense of right and wrong by drawing closer to God, by desiring to act in accordance with His ways, is to fear God. Ignoring one’s conscience and all manner of revelation is to rebel against God and is indeed sinful. Ignorance of His holiness likewise leads to the degradation and depravation that accompanies partaking of evil. Whether the deeds of the godless seem large, small or of no consequence, they all are contrary to God and impede the way of salvation, therefore they are all equally guilty of promoting evil.
To fear God is to hate the evil caused by willful or mindless ignorance of Him and His commandments for us. As children of God, we are not to partake of evil, not as individuals and not as a collective society; evil has no place in His kingdom. The fear of God means obediently abstaining from that which is offensive to Him and from that which is contrary to the order of His creation. God has commanded us to love Him and to love others as we love ourselves (Mk.12:28-31). To love God is to obey His commandments (Jn.14:15). His commandments are always right and best for us and have many practical benefits (Hos.14:9). Not only are we blessed for doing so, we are also physically, emotionally and spiritually healthier when we do not corrupt the intentions of God. Disobedience grieves our spirit which causes stress and anxiety in our souls which in turn depletes the body. This downward spiral is further exacerbated by the immediate consequences of sin and the inherent risks associated with ungodly behavior.
Though we may harbor sinful attitudes or dwell on sinful thoughts, outwardly sin is most often expressed in our relationships. When we fail to let God rule our hearts by failing to be caring and nurturing toward others, we sacrifice the peace of God and invite corruption. On the personal level, sin is manifest in abusive and broken relationships. On a larger scale, monstrous acts of evil may occur, such as mass murders or mass suicides. At such times, the existence of God is often questioned by those who fail to acknowledge the evil in their own hearts and likewise fail to recognize it in the world around them. The question is often asked, if God is a loving God why do such things happen and why is there such human suffering? These things exist because we let them exist. We may not be able to stop hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts, or murders and rapes, but as the Christian keepers of the Earth, we have the means to keep our own hearts pure, evangelize lost souls, come to the aid of victims or move them out of harm’s way, and then bring justice to the perpetrators of evil.
Knowledge of God enables us to make decisions rightly in accord with Truth. Knowing and believing Truth provides us with the basis for making sane decisions based on our accurate perception of reality, for reality is living according to Truth. Likewise, the opposite is true, failure to acknowledge Truth lends towards a life of fantasy and delusion where decisions are made by a mind that is out of touch with the reality of God and therefore less than wholly sane. God is Truth, and Truth is absolute, not relative. God gave man free will and it can be used to believe or disbelieve Truth; all belief systems contrary to the Word of God are fictitious and summarily invite the ungodly consequences of sin.
To learn of God we read His Word and receive instruction from our Christian teachers. When we encounter a teaching from scripture that is contrary to our beliefs, we are to forsake our false belief and conform to the Truth. For instance, say a person believes in reincarnation, then reads the Bible and discovers that every soul is unique and has only one physical life in which to find their way home to God (Heb.9:27). Such a person should immediately disbelieve reincarnation and all subsequent thoughts and replace them with the Truth of His Word. Failure to do so means continuing to live outside reality by believing things that are not Truth. Wrong beliefs lead to wrong thoughts. Wrong thoughts lead to faulty decision-making processes that in turn result in ungodly behavior and ungodly lives. People create for themselves situations of mayhem, disorder, disagreeableness, tension and discontent whenever there is friction between one’s framework of thoughts and the reality of any given situation. The discord results in unhappiness, distress, and mental disturbances that are the precursors of even more serious consequences. When left uncorrected, these things progress to beliefs that are even more convoluted and behaviors that are even more bizarre. Mental illness is often the result for those unable to cope with the constant stress of being out of touch with reality. In contrast, being spiritually healthy by believing and acting on Truth, results in an inner peace from being in harmony with God and the natural order of creation. Though the world around us is fraught with chaos, in Christ we have peace (Jn.14:15-27,16:31-33).
The habit of forsaking beliefs contrary to Truth while adopting Truth as the basis of our decisions, leads to experiential knowledge of God. Such knowledge comes from the testing of our faith, by making decisions based on His Word and His ways, ways that run contrary the ways of the world and our own flesh. As we part with the crutches, props and cosmetics that we use to make ourselves measure up in the secular world, the first steps are expected to be a bit wobbly. Forsaking the secular value system and replacing it with the priorities of God is difficult initially, but as we proceed and accustom ourselves to new ways, we grow stronger in our faith and our convictions. Our ability to trust God encompasses more and more areas of our lives as we realize for ourselves the joys of walking with God. We come to know firsthand that He loves us and has our best interest in mind; we see otherwise awful things produce good things because of loving Him, and we learn of virtue as we behold His benevolence and mercy.
By adopting Truth as our belief system, we begin to see as God sees and come to make decisions in accord with the will of God. Understanding the world around us in light of revelation and responding to it in a righteous manner, is wisdom. Wisdom is born of communion and union with God. It is a gift bestowed from the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is the fullness of God made manifest in our humble circumstances. It is the joy and peace born of experiential knowledge of goodness and of righteousness. It is the freedom and exhilaration from cleanliness and purity as opposed to the burdens of sin and filth. It is oneness with God in His eternal splendor and partaking of all the beauty of creation with His blessing. It is our life’s ultimate ecstasy to be in the presence of His holiness, His power and His glory. The more we cultivate our openness to God, the greater our awareness of His presence. Our ability to behold Him then grows as we learn to live according to His wisdom.
By living in His presence, we begin to see manifestations of the eternal in the day to day, and to see the spiritual implications of our physical existence. As Jesus used the common sites of His day as the settings for the parables that teach us of Heaven, our lives likewise become an allegorical representation of eternal Truth. Parenting is no longer just interaction between fathers, mothers and children, but a fertile source of learning about the love of God for His children from firsthand experience with our own children. Outside the home, our interactions with others are no longer mundane business or social affairs, but opportunities to express and bring to Earth the eternal Kingdom of God. All of life is seen and understood as being in the presence of our living Lord (Mt.12:28, Lk.17:20-21). Passing segments of time are no longer seen as mere, short-lived circumstances, but rather as opportunities to traverse the eternal with an expression of virtue or the accountability for a sin of omission.
As we learn to live in His presence and abide in His ways, we get to know God from personal experience. We will watch Him live His life through us and learn to recognize Him internally in our hearts and externally in our circumstances. Our experiences should reinforce what we learn of Him from our biblical studies. This involves acting contrary to the ways of the world, for the ways of God are foolishness to those who primarily seek money, power, fortune, fame, pleasures, or other such worldly trappings that prevent a soul from seeking God as one’s first priority (1Cor.1:18-24). We express the wisdom of God that is ours in Christ when we learn to recognize both our temporal motivations as well as the eternal implications of any given decision, and then choose to act in accordance with the ways of God.
Fear of the Lord as hating evil:
Pr.8:13, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil
Pr.23:17, instruction to fear the Lord always and not to envy sinners
Mal.3:5, judgment to befall those who do not fear the Lord
Fear of the Lord as source of knowledge leading to wisdom:
Job 28:28, fear of the Lord is wisdom to forsake ungodliness
Pr.1:7, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge
Pr.2:1-5, pursuit of wisdom means learning to fear God and gaining knowledge of Him
Pr.9:10, the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom
Is.33:6, fear of the Lord as a treasure; He is the source of knowledge and wisdom
Fear of the Lord in the presence of Holiness:
Ps.19:9, clear thinking (clean and pure) comes from fearing the Lord
Is.8:9-22, instruction to fear the Lord and revere His holiness
Fear of the Lord in light of His Judgments:
2Chr.19:7-10, the fear of the Lord is to govern our relationships with others
Lk.12:4-10, Jesus teaches that fear of the Lord is more important than worldly concerns
2Cor.5:10-11, fear the Lord in preparation for our total accounting before God
1Pe.1:17-19, fear the Lord, be mindful of Him in all things, He holds us accountable
Fear of the Lord as obedience
Deut.10:12-13, instruction to fear God, walk in His ways and love Him
Ps.111:9-10, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and a result of obedience
Is.50:10, fear of the Lord as obedience
Fear of the Lord in awe of His Power:
Josh.2:23-24, Jer.5:22, Mt.14:26-28, fear of the Lord as being in awe of His power
Lk.9:30-36, the awesome wonder of the Transfiguration
Rev.1:17-18, fear of the Lord expressed as falling prostrate in His presence
Fear of the Lord concerning His Providential Care (dealing with non-believers/evil):
2Chr.17:10, non-believers’ fear of the Lord causing them to avoid children of God
Mk.4:39-40, fear of the Lord as trusting in His power to overcome worldly fears
Fear of the Lord and quality of life:
Ps.33:18-19, fear of the Lord endears us to God bringing His blessings
Ps.34:7, fear of the Lord brings the protection of angels
Ps.115:13, God blesses all who fear Him
Pr.10:27, fear of the Lord engenders long life
Pr.14:27, fear of the Lord causes a man to avoid things harmful or fatal
Pr.15:16, peace of mind from fearing God as opposed to the turmoil of ungodliness
Pr.22:4, the rewards for humility and fear of God are honor and a rich, full life
Pr.23:17, fear of the Lord is contrary to envy, covetousness, and want
Pr.29:25, fearing man instead of God is an impediment to holiness
Ac.9:31, peace with others from fearing God
Fear of the Lord as reverence:
Ps 22:23, fear of the Lord as reverence expressed in praise and exaltation
Rev.14:6-7, instruction to fear the Lord and worship Him being mindful of His power
Fear of the Lord and its power to redirect the human soul toward godliness:
Mt.10:28, Jesus teaches us to fear God and not men
Lk.5:8-11, a demonstration of the power of God leads to lives being redirected to Him
Fear of the Lord personified:
Lk.1:46-55, the Magnificat of Mary
Knowledge of God:
Rom.1:21-32, ungodliness is the result of forsaking knowledge of God
2Cor.10:5-6, instruction to forsake worldly speculations and believe in Christ
Col.1:9-12, walking with God leads to knowledge of God and virtuous deeds
2Tim.2:24-26, instruction to teach Truth so others may escape insanity and condemnation
2Pet.1:2-4, knowledge of Truth leads to godliness and partaking of His divine nature
1Cor.2, the wisdom of God is ours in Christ
1Cor.3:18-20, the “wisdom” of man is foolishness in the presence of God
Eph.3:1-19, the application of knowledge and wisdom leads to understanding
Col.1:25-29, completeness in Christ from wisdom
Col.4:5, wisdom as our witness
Jas.1:5, prayers for wisdom will be answered
Jas.3:13-18, wisdom manifest in demeanor of goodness and gentleness
Fear of God:
“The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps.111:10; Prov.1:7; 9:10). Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him. Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin. That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God, and fear close to us. In this way we can learn the rule, and law of good order.”
St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 220#41
“The spirit of knowledge is a grasping of the commandments and the principles inherent in them, according to which the qualities of the virtues are constituted.”
St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219#39
“The spirit of wisdom is ascension towards the Cause of the higher spiritual principles inherent in the commandments, and union with it. Through this ascension and union we are initiated, in so far as this is possible for human beings, simply and through unknowing into those inner divine principles of created beings, and in different ways we present to men, as if from a spring welling up in our heart, the truth which resides in all things.”
St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219 #39
“We ascend step by step from what is remotest from God, but near to us, to the primal realities which are furthest from us but near to God. For we begin by abstaining from evil because of fear, and from this we advance to the practice of virtue through strength; from the practice of virtue we advance to the discrimination [discernment] conferred by the spirit of counsel; from discrimination to a settled state of virtue, which is cognitive insight; from the settled state of virtue to the spiritual knowledge of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; from this knowledge to a state of understanding, that is, to the transmuted state in which we conform to the divine principles of virtue that we have come to know; and from this we advance to the simple and undistorted contemplation of the truth that is in all things. From this point of vantage, as a result of our wise contemplation of sensible and noetic beings, we will be enabled to speak about the truth as we should.”
ibid. pg. 219 #40