Reading: Psalm 111
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.
In the legendary mocumentary TV show The Office, regional manager Michael Scott responds to the age-old question: “Is it better to be feared or loved?”
Scott hilariously replies: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Um easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
Psalm 111 says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I’ve struggled (as I think many of us have) with this idea of “the fear of the Lord.” Is that really what God wants from us? Fear? Wouldn’t God rather that we loved God instead?
Fear of the Lord is a major theme of the Hebrew Bible. It shows up 98 different times. And it is connected to wisdom at least another seven times.
That word, “fear,” in Hebrew is yir’ah and it can mean either “fear” or “respect.” Some have tried to soften the phrase “fear of the Lord” by translating it as “respect for the Lord;” and I admit, that’s attractive to me because I’m more comfortable with respect than fear. But to soften yir’ah down to “respect” is, I think, to turn God into Michael Scott (heaven forbid!).
Ultimately we still have to wrestle with the fact that the ancient Hebrews used the same word for “respect” as they did for “fear.”
Yir’ah is like our English word “awe,” which Webster defines as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.” Maybe that’s how we should translate it: “Awe of the Lord”.
Maybe this is all semantics and it doesn’t really matter; but really I think the heart of the matter is this: I want a God who is comfortable, not a God who is challenging. But our God is not to be tamed; and perhaps awe really is the attitude we ought to have when we think about God, talk about God, talk with God. Because, after all, the Bible is full of stories about the things God has done: wonderful, dreadful, amazing, terrible, awe-full (however you want to interpret that word) things. God is truly awe-some.
It is true that love is God’s core; but it’s not a warm, comfy, fluffy sort of love. It is an intense love, a perfect love, a love that transforms and redeems. God’s love will take you and refine you into the person God created you to be. And that’s not always a comfortable process. God’s is a love that is somehow both safe and dangerous all at the same time. It is a love that should fill us with awe, in every sense of the word.
Awesome God, your love is scary as it is comforting, refining us into the people you created us to be. May we be wise, and may our wisdom be grounded in our awe for you.