This question is probably more directed an Old Testament pattern of a description of our attitude towards the Lord. I equate "fear" more closely with "hate". For example today there was local news that a mountain lion "may have attacked a pet dog". That fear factor would lead to efforts to have the mountain lion killed. That's pretty far from love.

Let's go an assumption (that I made up) that "fear" were intended more closely to "respect". That may be the case but one can just as easily respect someone you love as someone you fear.

Are there multiple words/nuances of fear in the Biblical languages (Hebrew? Greek? Aramaic) ? Similarly are there some aspects of the Biblical Hebrew culture - or even more generally Semitic/Middle Eastern culture - that explains why "fear" is chosen as the way to instruct/describe the attitude/disposition to the Lord?

  • Are there different types of fear?
    – Kris
    Mar 26 '21 at 14:23
  • Your question needs to relate as much to the New Testament writings as to the Old. Fear God and honour the king 1 Peter 2:17.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 26 '21 at 14:24
  • @NigelJ Fair enough: I usually equated more with the Old but your comment expands the scope Mar 26 '21 at 14:37
  • @Kris That question is certainly either at or near to the core. I will update the question. Mar 26 '21 at 14:39

Shorter answer

Talking about lion, we are to hate our "adversary the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8). But the Fear of the LORD is qualitatively the opposite, as this fear enables us to enjoy and grow in our love for God, the key to our happiness.

Longer answer

I'm attempting to show through examples below, that our everyday use of fear in common English today ALSO carries the nuances of fear that the Biblical authors utilized to render what our attitude to God should be. Therefore, I think we need not look into specifically Hebrew / Semitic / Ancient Near Eastern culture as to why the Biblical authors chose the word 'fear'. In this answer I attempt to show how fear can be compatible with love and in fact can help one to deepen the love beyond feelings.

If we analyze semantically, in the Biblical books the fear of the LORD is a key element of loving God, similar to how a child both fears and loves his father, or how a citizen both fears and loves his king, or how a husband both fears and loves his wife. Of course it has to be a certain kind of fear that can be compatible with love, and not the kind of fear that leads us to hate and want to kill an enemy.

For example, a husband can fear to hurt his wife (example: not being appreciative / aloof, or doing things that his wife hates for good reason). A citizen can fear to incur the king's just wrath (example: siding with the king's enemy, or oppressing the helpless whom the king protects, or violating laws that the king enacted). A child can fear to alienate his father's good graces by climbing to reach the cookie jar in a precarious manner (going his own way rather than trusting his father's wisdom).

In all the examples above, the fear is the internal power within us which prevents us from hurting another's feeling, distrusting another's wisdom, disobeying a good rule/law, and damaging the trust and enjoyment of the relationship. In relationships where there is a natural imbalance of power (such as the child to the father and the citizen to the king), the fear is supplemented by an external force to aid our internal power which in turn prevents us from doing the same things. For example, the fear to be (justly) punished or the fear that one is at the mercy of the other's power help us from disobeying a (wise) commandment for our own good.

All those aspects of fear are compatible with our love for God, and more specifically for the LORD (Yahweh), the God of the Israelite and the Christian God:

  • We fear His awesome power (the imbalance between creature and creator)
  • We fear his (just) discipline for our own good
  • We fear the curtailing of his blessings if we don't do what we are supposed to do
  • We fear becoming His enemy: possible since He allows it (we have free will), which will result in our destruction (since He promised to punish the wicked)

All those are external force aiding our internal power of fear of hurting God (He was hurt in Hosea) to prod us into living in the right path so we can enjoy more fully our loving relationship with Him. This force also motivates us to obey God's wisdom reflected partly in his commandments so we do not go into dangerous areas outside the right path, just like the child who has been told not to climb the cupboard to reach the cookie jar.

IN CONTRAST, fear for demons (God's enemy) which is similar to fear of natural enemies (like your lion example, criminals, terrorists) is NOT compatible with love since this fear DOES lead to hate and move us to kill them. This fear is qualitatively different and leading us into alarm, anxiety, and defensive posture rather than into alertness, safety, and openness:

  • We fear their superior knowledge and power over the natural which they use to deceive us (Satan is the Father of lies)
  • We fear their persistent hate toward the human race (like how we fear Sauron in the Lord of the Rings)
  • We fear our falling into temptation which then damages our love for God and for our loved ones

CONCLUSION: God wants us to fear Him in love, by graduating FROM merely the fear of external forces of the power imbalance or of punishment TO the healthy internal fear resulting from our humility (of being creature), respect (of God being wiser), and desire for happiness in our loving relationship with Him. Bottom line: we fear damage to our own happiness, which can only be found in our love for God, which needs to include fear of the LORD.

The book of Proverbs (wisdom for living) has these verses to highlight various aspects of this healthy kind of fear (see other verses, including from other books, here):

  • Fear leads to trusting God's wisdom and discipline Prov 1:7: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
  • Fear acknowledges God's power to determine short/long life Prov 10:27: Fear of the Lord lengthens one’s life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.
  • Fear prods us to walk only in the right paths leads to our security, refuge, and protection:
    • Prov 14:26-27: ²⁶ Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children. ²⁷ Fear of the Lord is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death.
    • Prov 19:23: Fear of the Lord leads to life, bringing security and protection from harm.
    • Prov 14:2: Those who follow the right path fear the Lord; those who take the wrong path despise him.
  • Signs of those who fear to obey God's commandment:
    • Coveting only God: Prov 23:17: Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord.
    • Truth, integrity, humility Prov 8:13: All who fear the Lord will hate evil. Therefore, I hate pride and arrogance, corruption and perverse speech.
  • Demons do not have superior power. Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. Mar 26 '21 at 15:46
  • @TheChaz2.0 1 John 4:4 refers to the Holy Spirit within us who is greater than the prince of the world, yes. But God still allows the demons to tempt us and Christianity teaches that angelic intelligence is greater than our intellect, as shown from exorcism case studies. So yes, if we lead our lives with the fear of the LORD, we will not be possessed by demons but as C.S. Lewis writes in Screwtape Letters we have to be constantly in our guard while still in the world. Mar 26 '21 at 16:05
  • We have the mind of Christ. I don't accept "exorcism case studies" Mar 26 '21 at 16:25
  • @TheChaz2.0 I too believe we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), but I also believe what Peter said in 1 Pet 5:8: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. A good verse, since the OP mentions a lion too ! Mar 26 '21 at 16:31
  • I think your answer is clearly written and well supported. I just personally do not find the path that you laid out to "work" for me. It's not a philosophical or semantic disagreement so much as an assocation I do not tend to ever graduate from fear to love. The fear to me is only along the lines of "don't stand near the edge of a precipice" thus for self preservation. We do need that: we fear for our souls and those of others as part of our obedience to His precepts and Will. Mar 26 '21 at 21:31

Why is “Fearing the Lord” equated to loving Him?

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10

There are certainly many different meanings to equate with Fear of the Lord!

According to Pope Francis, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us,...[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.”

In the New Testament, this fear is described using the Greek word φόβος (phobos, "fear/horror"), except in 1 Timothy 2:10, where Paul describes γυναιξὶν ἐπαγγελλομέναις θεοσέβειαν (gynaixin epangellomenais theosebeian), "women professing the fear of God", using the word θεοσέβεια (theosebeia).

The term can mean fear of God's judgment. However, from a theological perspective "fear of the Lord" encompasses more than simple fear. Robert B. Strimple says, "There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and, yes, fear."2 In the Magnificat (Luke 1:50) Mary declaims, "His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him." The Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8) finds Jesus describing the judge as one who "...neither feared God nor cared for man." Some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version, sometimes replace the word "fear" with "reverence".

According to Pope Francis, “The fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us,...[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.”bRoman Catholicism counts this fear as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Proverbs 15:33, the fear of the Lord is described as the "discipline" or "instruction" of wisdom. Writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Jacques Forget explains that this gift "fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him." In an April 2006 article published in Inside the Vatican magazine, contributing editor John Mallon writes that the "fear" in "fear of the Lord" is often misinterpreted as "servile fear" (the fear of getting in trouble) when it should be understood as "filial fear" (the fear of offending someone whom one loves).

Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto coined the term numinous to express the type of fear one has for God. Anglican lay theologian C. S. Lewis references the term in many of his writings, but specifically describes it in his book The Problem of Pain and states that fear of the numinous is not a fear that one feels for a tiger, or even a ghost. Rather, the fear of the numinous, as C. S. Lewis describes it, is one filled with awe, in which you "feel wonder and a certain shrinking" or "a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant and our prostration before it". It is a fear that comes forth out of love for the Lord. - Fear of God

It is upon the fact of human nature that grace builds, so that the Jewish tradition takes our experience of awe and wonder at natural things like mountain ranges, spectacular storms, august heroes and the astounding panoply of creation and says, “If creation is this awesome, how much more awesome must the Creator be?” And so Jewish Prophets formulate one of the most profound insights of all time: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Thus Fear of the Lord is a filial love for the Creator.

  • 1
    Thanks for throwing in from Pope Francis - I happen to be Catholic though a convert and I had the same confusion as a former Protestant! My struggle in this transcends denomination ;) Similarly your answer is clearly written and well expressed. I likely have a gap in acceptance of what a full adherence to our Faith requires Mar 26 '21 at 21:36

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