Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Fear of The Lord

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"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7)

There are two kinds of fear; the first is due to Gods Awesome Divine Nature and the second is due to our frail and sinful nature. The topic of the fear of the Lord is essential not only because it is the beginning or the head of our spiritual life "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9:10) but because we live in a generation that lacks this feeling of reverence toward God. Imagine a house with a sign in front of it that says, Beware of DOG and a 100 lbs Rottweiler barking in the backyard now imagine another quiet house in the same neighborhood with a sign that says, Beware of GOD. Which of the two houses is more likely to be visited by a thief? The two signs had the same three letters but in different order yet a thief may avoid the house with the dog that he can see and hear and not be deterred by the second sign which should remind him of God who can see and hear him!

The Fear Due to Gods Awesome Nature:
According to Websters New World Dictionary, the word awe is a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something noble or exalted. Our God is an awesome God and He inspires awe in the hearts of all who truly believe. This mixed feeling of reverence and fear fills the heart with inexpressible joy (Ps 2:11) and peace. We ought to always have this feeling in our hearts but especially when we pray and when we are in the church. The following are some of the holy verses that refer to this kind of fear:

  • "Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" (Rev 15:4)

  • "Praise our God, all you His servants and those who fear Him, both small and great!" (Rev 19:5)

  • "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?" (Mal 1:6)

  • "They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me" (Jer 32:38-40)

  • "The Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is also to be feared above all gods." (1 Chron 16:25)

  • "Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling" (Ps 2:11)

  • "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever" (Ps 19:9)

  • "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord" (Ps 112:1)

  • "The Lord is great in Zion, and He is high above all the peoples Let them praise Your great and awesome name He is holy." (Ps 99:2,3)

  • "Holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps 111:9,10)

It is important to emphasize that this first kind of fear due to Gods Awesome Nature is not synonymous with terror and that it is everlasting (Ps 19:9) i.e. it will continue with us in eternal life as mentioned in the holy verses above from the holy book of Revelation and Psalms because it initiates praise and worship to God. This feeling of reverence and fear fills the Seraphim who worship and praise God forever and cover their faces with two wings, their feet with two wings and fly with two (Is 6:2). One of the fathers contemplated about this verse and said that the Seraphim cover their faces because they feel unworthy to look at God and they cover their feet because they feel unworthy for God to look at them!

The Fear Due to a Fallen and Sinful Nature:
St. Paul said it clearly in his Epistle to the Romans, "if you do evil, be afraid" (Rom 13:4). The second kind of the fear of God is due to the consequences of breaking His holy commandments and the anticipation of His judgment and punishment. Here are some holy verses that refer to this kind of fear:

  • "I heard Your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked" (Gen 3:10)

  • "My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your Judgments" (Ps 119:120)

  • "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb 10:31)

  • "Even the demons believe and tremble!" (Jam 2:19)

  • "I will show you whom you should fear; Fear Him who after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes I say to you fear Him" (Lk 12:4,5; Mt 10:28)

Even though this second kind of fear is burdensome (1 Jn 4:18), it is nevertheless very beneficial to our spiritual life and our salvation as mentioned in the holy verses below. We are all clearly very vulnerable to sin and disobedience as long as we live in this world, therefore, this fear of Gods punishment proves to be a strong safeguard against sin and also a valuable initiator of repentance. Finally, this kind of fear will not continue with us in eternal life because sin will have no power over us since we are going to be crowned with the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8). The following are holy verses that highlight the benefit of this second kind of fear:

  • "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12)
    "Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it
    " (Heb 4:1)

  • "Those who are sinning rebuke them in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear" (1 Tim 5:20) This was clear after the events of Ananias and his wife Sapphira "So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things" (Acts 5:11)

  • "On some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear pulling them out of the fire" (Jam 22:23)

  • "Conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (1 Pet 1:17)

  • "Do not be haughty but fear" (Rom 11:20)

  • "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27)

Two Kinds of Lack of Fear:
There are two kinds of lack of Gods fear; the first is due to the hardening of the heart with sin and the second is due to the filling of the heart with perfect love. The first kind is exemplified by the parable of the unjust judge Our Lord said, "there was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man" (Lk 18:2). The right thief told the left one "do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?" (Lk 23:40) and our father Abraham said, "surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will kill me on account of my wife" (Gen 20:11). As for the second kind of the lack of fear, it was mentioned in the Holy First Epistle of St. John, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love" (1 Jn 4:18)

Perfect love means keeping Gods commandments as St. John said, "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 Jn 5:3). Thus, the perfect keeping of Gods commandments will result in casting the fear of punishment out of the heart.

This is an especially elevated level of spirituality as mentioned about St. Anthony who said once to his disciples "I do not fear God" and when they were perplexed and told him "this is hard saying our father" he explained it to them saying "I do not fear Him because I love Him". This perfect love, however, does not diminish the first kind of fear of God due to His awesome nature as St. John himself describes in the Holy Book of Revelation, "when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last..." (Rev 1:17). Here St. John, the beloved disciple, who wrote about perfect love casting fear out of the heart, falls as dead at the feet of our Lord Jesus Christ when he saw a glimpse of His Divine Awesome Nature. Thus the words of St. John in his Holy First Epistle should not be mistakenly generalized to include both kinds of the fear of the Lord.

How to Acquire the Fear of God?

  1. Prayer:
    Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "without Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5) It is written, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above from the Father of lights" (Jam 1:17) It is thus a general spiritual rule that we should pray asking God for all our needs especially the spiritual ones as St. James also said, "if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jam 1:5) Therefore, the Church teach us to ask God to grant us His fear in the Thanksgiving Prayer we say grant us to complete this holy day / night with Your fear. In the liturgy, the deacon says, worship God in fear and trembling and stand with the fear of God and listen to the Holy Gospel. In the Agpeya prayer, especially the twelfth hour and the midnight prayer, there are many references to the fear of God so let us pay attention to these exhortations and ask God to grant us to be filled with His fear.

  2. The fear of the Lord is a learned behavior:
    King David said, "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the lord Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; speak peace and pursue it." (Ps 34:11-14) This holy psalm gives us instructions to learn the fear of the Lord. Thus it is clear that this feeling may be acquired by learning and we ought to train our minds and hearts to fear the Lord. It also implies that if we are in the company of those who fear the Lord we can learn from them and fear the Lord ourselves and the opposite is also true; if we keep company with those who lack the fear of God we risk of losing our own reverence and respect of God.

  3. Respect all that pertains to God:
    Our father Jacob saw God in a dream and when he awoke he was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28:17). All that pertain to God is worthy of respect and reverence (the Church, the Clergy, the saints and their icons, the Holy scriptures, the sign of the cross, etc) If we learn to respect all these we will also respect God Himself.

  4. Self-examination and remembering our sins:
    King David said, "my sin is always before me" (Ps 51:3) Self-examination and remembering our faults is a good spiritual exercise to fill our hearts with humility and the fear of God. It needs to be filled however with the hope in forgiveness and Gods compassion.

A Kind of Fear That We Ought to Overcome:
Since we are talking about the subject of fear, we need to mention this point for the sake of completeness. Our Lord said, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (Jn 14:27). King David also said, "God is our refuge and strength a very help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Ps 46:1,2). "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me" (Ps 23:4). The Holy verses that encourages us and reminds us not to fear evil or trouble are many. We ought to meditate on them and ask God to fill our hearts with peace and to cast any fear or anxiety out of our lives in order to enjoy His care and His love that surpasses our understanding.

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