The Fear of God


I’ve been reading the book of Proverbs like a self-help book.  I highly recommend reading a chapter per night, corrosponding with the date of the month.

Throughout Proverbs one reads about “The Fear of God”.

Try “googling” the phrase and you come up with very little.  Evidently the topic isn’t popular today.  People don’t seem to like the idea of “the fear of God”.

On Monday I managed to corner Fr. Penn on the subject. I figured if anyone could give me an answer he could do so.  He told me the ancient Hebrew version of “fear” is also “awe”.

I found the following:

“The root meaning of the word yara is “to flow” and is related to words meaning rain or stream as a flowing of water. In Hebrew thought fear can be what is felt when in danger or what is felt when in the presence of an awesome sight or person of great authority. These feelings flow out of the person in such as actions as shaking when in fear or bowing down in awe of one in authority.

Fr. Penn says the “fear of God” is the most awesome awesome one can experience.  I found another explanation by Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser.  It is an explanation I like.  My idea of the awesome nature of God is looking at the vast expanse of the night sky – and thinking about the vast conscience that made it all – and made me.  Awesome!

“…There is no one-to-one correspondence between any two words from two different languages. While Yirah usually is translated as “fear,” its usage suggests a meaning that might also be translated with the English word “awe.” Different Hebrew words are used in the Bible for the kind of anxious fear one might describe as “dread” or “loathing.”

The Hebrew Bible’s concept of “fearing God,” therefore, can be compared to the feeling of looking at the nighttime sky and being awed by the immensity of space and simultaneously terrified by the thought of our smallness in such a vast expanse. That is to say, it is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than oneself and greater than that encountered in ordinary life. It is the feeling that the theologian Rudolf Otto called the Mysterium Tremendum.

That is a different experience than the anxiety one has in the course of everyday life — although, it must be admitted, they are not distantly related as human emotions. What is clear to me, though, is that “fearing God” is not a compulsion that makes you cringe or causes you to make poor choices, as you might if you always were afraid of a person or thing.

Rather, “fearing God,” is living life with a trembling awareness that life has meaning — that the choices you make have consequences of ultimate significance. To “fear” God as a Jew means to hone within yourself an awareness of the divine Presence around you all the time. One who fears God in this way would never say, “It does not matter how I behave in this circumstance because no one will ever know.”

To live in this way is a profound and spiritual experience. Yet, Jewish tradition says that, in addition to experiencing the fear of God, a person also should develop an awareness of the love of God. The Jewish liturgy says that God loves us with an unending, infinite love. Just as we wish to feel the awe of God around us, we also should desire to know and to feel that we are loved — deeply and passionately — by God. …”


One thought on “The Fear of God

  1. I like the Rabbi’s explanation, too. If only more of us would live our every day life’s way, we might not be so unhappy about life and our choices. I fear God everyday, because I know that I have enough counted against me when it comes to judgement day…I do my best not to tact on to it when I can, but I ultimately fail at that goal…thank goodness, he is a forgiving God.

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