Matthew 10:26-33 | Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
What is the Fear of the Lord?
I used to have an acute fear of flying. Days before my trip, I would begin praying fervently. The night before I wouldn’t be able to sleep. On the plane, I would grip the armrests and feel every bump, jostle, and turn. I had put my life in someone else’s hands, and I was sure the end was just around the corner.
I thought about my old fear when I read this passage. In these five verses, the words “do not be afraid” are commanded three different times. We are not to fear those who mock us (v.26), those who kill us (v.28), or our own triviality (v.31). Yet in these same verses, we are told to “fear only God” (v.28—NIV translation), a concept that runs contrary to the warm, fuzzy Father I like to imagine God is. So what does it mean to fear, specifically, to fear God?
From the Oxford English Dictionary, fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” That captures how I felt about flying. But it doesn’t capture how we should feel about God. Or does it?
By this definition, God is dangerous in the sense that He will challenge our belief system and will shake us out of our comfort zone. A life following Him will threaten someone we love, and the possibly fractured relationship, however temporary, will cause pain. But I don’t think God wants us to walk around every day worried that He is out to make us miserable. His change ultimately brings peace and love. Fear of Him in this traditional sense, I think, probably makes Him sad.
When I tried to find the Greek translation for fear of the Lord, I came across “to feel awe or fear especially before doing something disgraceful.” Per this definition, we’re to use our fear of God to keep us from doing bad things. That struck me as a rather childish definition, almost Santa Claus-like. God is so much deeper than Santa.
As I played with the meaning construct, I hit upon my own definition of fear of the Lord: an awe or reverence before Him that stems from a realization of our own insignificance. Ultimately fear of all kinds reminds us that we are not in control, that we are insignificant. Fear of the Lord means we put our trust in a God who is in control, one who can take evil and work it for good (Romans 8:28).
In this passage, we are reminded that a life lived for God won’t be easy, that we will be mocked, we will face death, and that we are insignificant. But any life is such. The difference is that a life lived for God has a deeper meaning because while on our own we may be insignificant, He loves us and our recognition of that love lifts us higher than any plane can fly; it lifts us to Him.