"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding."
In 1933, at his first inauguration and during the height of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered the words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Those were (and remain) powerful words to inspire a nation to war. But FDR was incorrect.
Fear is real, and ought never to be dismissed lightly. But there is something we need to fear that is far more dangerous than "fear itself", or Dracula, or terrorism, or nuclear holocaust, or even bluegrass music.
We need to fear God.
I am disheartened when I hear pastors explain away the phrase "fear of the Lord" by claiming that the Hebrew word "yirah", which is often translated "fear", actually means "respect", and therefore we should respect the Lord.
The word actually means "terror", and we need to be absolutely terrified of the Holy One of Israel, the One who can wipe out our very existence with less than a thought.
Far too often we are taught how much Jesus loves us (which is true) and how much the Father desires to be with us (which is also true). But what is equally true is that God is so far "above" us, existentially, that we have no right to speak his name, much less approach him in prayer. We certainly have no right to actually expect him to do things on our behalf.
God is absolutely holy; we are rubbish by comparison. God is absolute holiness; we are less than God's excrement. He is absolute power and majesty; we are lower than the dust. God is transcendence itself; we are nothing.
It disturbs me to hear sermons or read books or see preachers on TV dealing with God as if we are in any way worthy to approach him, or that we are worthy of his love. Christianity is far, far more than "Jesus and I having warm fuzzies together." Christianity is, at times - or needs to be - abject lowliness, complete humility before the presence of God.
When pastors enter the pulpit to proclaim the word of God each Lord's day, we ought to be absolutely terrified at what is about to take place...if we actually believe that what we are proclaiming is the living word of a very real God.
Perhaps if we gained a better appreciation of true fear and the true awesome greatness of God, we could and would live our lives in a more godly fashion, more faithful to his call, more grateful for his mercies. He has no need of us; we have a desperate need for him, and ought to be filled with tearful joy that he allows us to live, and to experience his presence and the joy of redemption in Jesus Christ.
Fear the God who created all and who can destroy all. Don't simply respect God; fear God. He alone is worthy of fear.