Based upon the writings in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (11:2-4), the Church traditionally speaks of Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, counsel, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. Candidates preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation are taught about these gifts of the Spirit.
The gift which usually engenders the most discussion among young people, and the gift which is so often misunderstood by adults, is the gift of the Fear of the Lord. Often people will ask, “Why does God want us to be scared of Him?” There is a difference between being scared of God and having fear of the Lord.
Psalm 34 states: “Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” This saying indicates that “fear” of the Lord is not “fear” as the word is usually used. Fear is usually meant as the emotion which is caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. This fear may come from a hazardous situation, illness, a threatening stronger person, or a wild animal. We do not need to be taught this “fear.” But the Bible speaks of the fear of the Lord as a “fear” we must be taught. Obviously, fear of the Lord is something different from the ordinary use of the word fear.
Fear of the Lord comes not from an instinctive fright of something we sense may harm us but comes from a realization that we are so deeply loved by God that we would fear ever losing that love. It comes from knowing that the relationship between us and God is not a relationship of equals. God is awesome in the literal sense of the word. We can only stand in awe before God. As Psalm 8 states: “what is man that you are mindful of Him?” We are loved by this awesome God who knows us so well that He knows how many hairs we have on our heads. (Mt 10:30) His plans for us are for our good. (Jer 29:11) He is with us until the end of the world. (Mt 28:20)
St. Hillary, a Doctor of the Church, (which means a saint recognized as having made significant contribution to theology) wrote “fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings out fear of him to its perfection. Our love of God is entrusted with its own responsibilities: to observe his counsels, to obey his laws, to trust his promises. Let us hear what Scripture says: ‘And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God and walk in his ways and love him and keep his commandments with your whole heart and your whole soul, so that it may be well with you.’ ”
When two people are in love with each other, they do not wish to do anything which would break their relationship. They do not “fear” the other, but they “fear” ever losing the relationship which so enriches their lives.
Fear of the Lord does not mean we are scared of God, rather, it means we fear ever losing the relationship we have with God. St John tells us that where there is love there is no fear. God offers us peace of mind and peace of heart. God offers us purpose and meaning in our lives. God offers us eternal life. Fear of the Lord teaches us wisdom, the wisdom of knowing what is truly important and lasting, namely, our relationship with God and the new life He offers us. “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Ps 90:12) Fear of the Lord teaches us not to become attached to created things but to become attached to the One who creates all things.
Fear of the Lord teaches us to grasp the love of God and to do nothing which would ever separate us from the One who so loves us that He died for us.
As we observe Holy Week and recall the great event of our salvation. Let us pray we will remember that the awesome Creator of the cosmos, knows us by name, loves us, and cherishes us to such an extent that we are worth dying for. May we always fear ever being separated from this love.