What is fear of the Lord, a gift of the Holy Spirit, and why is it important?
Johann Michael Rottmayr, “God the Father”, Karlskirche, Vienna, 1714. (photo: Public Domain)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
By Rev William Most
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fear, of course, does not mean slavish fear, but the kind of fear one has for His Father, a reverential fear, which includes love and a sense of the Father’s greatness. There are two poles in our relation to God: one is love, closeness, warmth, the other is a sense of infinite majesty and greatness. He is infinite in all respects, so one cannot be excessive. But if one cultivates one pole without the other, the picture is sick, and devotion suffers. That is happening to so many today. If one compares the current English of Eucharistic prayer, I to that of the official Latin, he will see that systematically every expression that brings out the majesty of God is eliminated. This is tragic and has done untold harm.
The fear that is the beginning of wisdom is the same kind of fear of which St. Paul later spoke in Phil 2.12-13: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing.” This passage is often misunderstood as if one should live in fear of hell. But that is not the case if read in context. First, “fear and trembling” is a stereotyped expression, which from much use, lost much of its force (In 2 Cor 7.15, St. Paul says the Corinthians received Titus “with fear and trembling”, but relations between them and Paul were very poor. It really means only “with respect.” Cf.also Psalm 2.11). More importantly, the reason for this respect is that both in doing good and even in doing evil, the doer is using God’s infinite power.