Remember the mothers of yesteryear who would glare at unruly offspring, promising “I’ll put the fear of God into you, young man!” One smoldering look from Mom was all it took for a child to simmer down. Fear and authority seemed to go together. In this third article on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we examine Fear of the Lord. For many people it conjures up images of divine wrath and trembling sinners running away from fire. Does God want us to obey out of fear? An excellent article I read recently identified three elements of this spiritual gift that show what it means more clearly. Let’s look first at wonder, then obedience and finally the love of goodness.
As mothers, we have so many occasions to experience wonder. Our children’s physical, mental and emotional growth is truly amazing. We parents love to talk about our children because wonder sparks pride and joy as we see them develop, each in his, or her, own way. Of course, familiarity can breed contempt and we sometimes ignore or take our kids for granted. They might be a unique gift, but sometimes the most original thing about them seems to be the new ways they get into mischief. How can we avoid focusing on the mundane or negative aspects of life with children? I remember reading about a biologist, Edward O. Wilson, who dedicated his life to the study of ants. He was taken up with the wonder of one small creature that most of us would crush without a second thought! What am I missing? I thought, mystified by this scientist’s devotion. Maybe we need to look closer to find wonder—at our children, at nature, at other people. When we bend down to look into the eyes of a little one, we are like Wilson bending down to marvel at the tiny ant—we are attending to the smallest and most hidden wonders of God’s creation. And so we pay homage to God and learn to be amazed all over again at our children—the newest members of an awesome creation.
Fear of the Lord is also about obedience. Children, like all of us, hate being told what to do. Take the situation where my six-year-old begged to go to the local amusement park with his aunt. She was happy to take him. Unfortunately, it didn’t go that well. Some of the rides were for toddlers and they bored him to tears. So he went on the big boy rides, but these terrified him. He was stuck in the middle. Sometimes we are like this with God. We beg for what we want. We get it. When it doesn’t work out we are mad. Yet, the Lord knows what we are ready for and that’s why he asks for obedience. When we don’t obey, we can still learn from our mistakes, but we don’t have a very good time! Part of this obedience is humility, “Do not be wise in your own eyes, but fear the Lord” (Proverbs 3:7). As a rule, parents hope children will obey out of respect and love. They need motivation, however. When I need my sons to just get with the program, I sometimes take them by the scruff of the neck to just get them going in the right direction. Obedience is about God getting us going in the right direction!
Finally, a third aspect of Fear of the Lord: love of goodness (or hatred of evil and injustice). During a turning point in my life, I remember being very afraid I would make the wrong decision. I felt that if I made the wrong choice God would reject me. Although I was choosing between two legitimate ways of life, with blessing from the Church, I was still afraid of losing God’s approval. Somehow God gave me a grace to know that if I sought God’s will I would have nothing to fear. Paradoxically, Fear of the Lord caused me to be totally unafraid. Putting our ultimate happiness in God can make us unafraid to lose lesser things. That is why Fear of the Lord is called “a fountain of life (Proverbs 14:27) and the “key to a treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). It holds our hearts captive not out of dread, but out of a rational, clearheaded judgment that only God is worthy of the complete gift of our hearts. As the saints say, solo Dios basta, “God alone can satisfy my heart!” (Teresa of Avila).
Like the other gifts, Fear of the Lord guides us towards love and joy.
Copyright 2010 Julie Paavola