By William Tice
The fear of the Lord is not restrictive; it frees us to be the persons whom God has called us to be.
Before Confirmation, we probably learned the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit from Isaiah 11:1-2 and Chapter 1831 of the Catechism: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The first six probably seem desirable to us, but what about the fear of the Lord? Little is said about it today.
Understandably, it sounds like something to avoid rather than a gift. However, its meaning is greatly misunderstood. All of us have fears. Some are healthy (example: “don’t play with fire!”). Others are misplaced or exaggerated (example: not leaving one’s home because something bad may happen). Either example is essentially negative.
“Fear of the Lord” conjures up images of our timidly cowering along in anticipation that God is looking to punish us for even our slightest misstep. There are some negative aspects such as fear of sin, evil, and ultimately, Hell (aka servile fear). Although this mindset is actually far better than ignoring, disrespecting, or not even believing in God, it’s not the full meaning. Rather fear of the Lord is also a healthy sense of awe, reverence, and honor that God alone deserves (aka filial fear). It’s an invitation to speak of and praise Him freely, acknowledging the reality that none of us is God and implies a dependence on Him.
The first six Gifts of the Spirit become real and alive within us when we have a filial fear of the Lord. As examples, we receive the wisdom and understanding to face life’s challenges when we honor the one, true God. He also gives us fortitude (aka courage) to stand up for what is right and true because we are ultimately judged by how God sees us, not by how anyone else does. The fear of the Lord is truly a positive gift. A few of several hundred references to the fear of the Lord in Scripture are:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9:10)
“In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence …” (Proverbs 14:26)
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 14:27)