"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." - Psalm 111:10
The fear of God is not a very popular idea these days, at least not in the UCC, probably as a reaction to various unhealthy fear-based versions of the faith.
Still, a read-through of the Bible indicates that the typical response to an encounter with the Holy is fear. Both Moses before the burning bush and Jacob at Bethel were struck with awe at the presence of God. And it seems every time an angel appears with a divine message the first words they speak are a reassuring, "Fear not!"
And then there's today's verse "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
What are we to make of it? Perhaps we only gain wisdom when we realize the limits of our life in comparison with that which is greater than we are. That is part of the reason for worship: to realize our mortality in the face of God's eternity, our sinfulness in contrast to God's holiness.
If fear seems too strong a word, sidle up to it slowly by thinking about "awe" and "reverence."
A prayer from the New Century Hymnal has this line in it: "May you love God so much that you love nothing else too much; May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing at all."
That sounds pretty wise to me!
O God, grant that we may grasp the full measure of your fierce love, that we may worship you in awe and reverence.
Richard L. Floyd is Pastor Emeritus of First Church of Christ (UCC) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and author of A Course In Basic Christianity and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Reflections on the Atonement. He blogs at richardlfloyd.com.