The Fear of God and Awe 


The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)

While the “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom and is thought to be an important aspect of our relationship with God, what this “fear” is needs further clarity. St Gregory of Sinai comments:


Divine awe has nothing to do with trepidation – by which I mean, not the tremulousness induced by joy, but the trepidation induced by wrath or chastisement or the feeling of desertion by God. On the contrary, divine awe is accompanied by a tremulous sense of jubilation arising from the prayer of fire that we offer when filled with awe. This awe is not the fear provoked by wrath or punishment, but it is inspired by wisdom, and is also described as ‘the beginning of wisdom‘ (Psalm 111:10). (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 4, pp 260-261)


The fear of the Lord is thus not groveling in the face of a tyrannical ogre, but an awe in the presence of our holy, loving and merciful Creator. The “fear of the Lord” also reminds us that there is a God and we aren’t that God but answer to God as God’s servants. We are reminded of this by the prophets who pointed out the failures of God’s people, reminding them that there will be a day of reckoning in which we will have to answer to God as our Judge. So, another scripture reading for today is from the Prophet Isaiah:


Therefore the Lord will have no joy in their young men, nor have mercy on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is a hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. . . .  Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless. (Isaiah 9:17…10:1-2)

I find such words in the scripture to be a burden on my heart. It speaks of God so disgusted with Israel’s sins that He will not show mercy to Israel. Such scriptural warnings are so troubling to me because God is also portrayed as being merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  If God gets so disgusted with His people because of our sins, what hope is there for the world? No doubt this is behind Christ’s first message to us: “Repent!” We need to change our sinful ways in order to be blessed by God’s favor.  It is also why I find the prayer “Lord have mercy!” so powerful – God is willing to hear our prayer and God is merciful. We fail in our task to be God’s servants and holy ones, but God is patient with us through our failures and is ever willing to welcome us back and to forgive us if we seek His mercy and through repentance attempt to return to doing His will. Asking God to be merciful is a beautiful form of prayer of which we should never tire of offering.


In the fear of God, with faith and with love, draw near. (Call to Holy Communion)