“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…” — Proverbs 1:7
I heard a radio preacher talk about the fear of the Lord yesterday. i expected him to go to start talking about the fearful, terrified, condemnation-style fear and how God was, well, almost like a bully that we’d be afraid of running into. But he didn’t! Instead, he talked about the kind of fear that I would call reverence.
And then this morning, I opened up a devotional called Augustine Day By Day and today’s entry, “Chaste Fear,” was bringing out this same approach.
Just from the fact that you try to avoid evil, you improve yourself, and you begin to desire what is good. When you begin to desire what is good, there will be a chaste fear in you.
That fear by which you fear being cast into hell with the devil is not yet chaste, since it does not come from the love of God but from fear of punishment. But when you fear God in the sense that you do not wish to lose Him, you embrace Him, and you desire to enjoy Him.
When I was growing up, so many of the gospel presentations were not GOOD News, but rather FEARFUL WARNINGS!
- ‘You better make the right decision or you’ll go to Hell!’
- ‘If you accept Jesus, you’ll be saved from Hell!’
- ‘Turn or Burn!’
- ‘Make sure you’ve got you’ve signed up for your eternal fire insurance!’
I have one fellow pastor and friend who is always dwelling on the negatives. And yes, I know that seems like a generalization, but in this case it’s pretty accurate! He tries to draw people’s attention to how horrible, bad, awful, and sinful the world is around us. And that’s his attempt to share the “good” news! I love him and he has the sweetest wife, but I can only be around him for short periods of time and generally avoid reading anything he writes. It’s all pessimism and fear based. I don’t need more of that in my life!
It seems to me that that radio preacher (I don’t even know who he was) and St. Augustine have the healthier, more Godly approach. Yes there is a gratitude for what Jesus saves us from eternally in regards to punishment, that’s NOT the motivation for my walk with Christ or my understanding of God. Instead, there is a JOY in getting to know God better as I walk with Christ… as I learn to be His disciple and become more like Him. My relationship becomes more and more about love and respect and gratitude and reverence… not fear of punishment.
After all, the definition of “gospel” is supposed to be “GOOD news.”
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entry for July 29 “Chaste Fear” in Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Catholic Book Publishing:New York, 1986, page 113. Quote drawn from Augustine’s sermon on 1 John 9, 5.