“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” — Proverbs 9:10 (ESV), emphasis mine.
If I could summarize the Gospel in four words: “People sin, Jesus saves.” There may be a little more to it, but in order to understand and embrace the Gospel, you must understand and embrace that 1) human beings are sinful and 2) Jesus Christ is their one hope at life.
The Gospel is the central message of the Bible, the hinge on which the entire book turns. Proverbs 9:10 is one of those beautiful verses that supports and illuminates the Gospel, bridging the Old Testament to the New while offering spiritual insight that is relevant to our daily living.
It is also a wonderful exercise in contending with a passage that may, at first, seem unintuitive. After all, if we view the Lord as our friend and advocate, the one who saves and heals, our hope and our light — why on Earth should we feel fear in our approach?
We all want wisdom, right?
It can be difficult to define, much less truly grasp. I think my favorite way of putting it may be, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is keeping it out of your fruit salad anyway.”
“Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
This line of dialogue, written by C.S. Lewis for the character Mr. Beaver in his fantasy novel The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, refers to the lion Aslan, the Christ figure in the story. It is a nifty little way to frame our perspective of God.
He is very powerful, after all. Able to create the universe, begin and end lives, set the elaborate course of his will into motion. If nothing else, maybe we should fear him because of his great power.
At the very least, it would serve us to be curious. What does such a powerful person want from us, for us? What is his motivation? His character?
Of course, God’s character is revealed to us in the Bible. We learn that God loves us, deeply and sacrificially. We learn that God is holy, despising sin and longing for our righteousness.
And, ah, that is the catch: In the Bible, we also learn of our own character, and that we have all fallen short of God’s perfect standard.
It is in this grand dichotomy that wisdom proves truly useful and fear of the Lord truly reasonable.
In His good character, he despises sin. In our fallen character, we embody sin.
If the story ended there, we would be hopeless, and right to fear God in every way. But because we can place our hope in Jesus, we understand that this is the beginning of our wisdom, and not its end.
I should probably stop here, and cut this blog post off as a tidy reflection on a verse I am fond of. Feel free to take your exit now, yourself, if you would like.
But if you will indulge me, reader, I have an analogy in mind, concerning this passage, that I would like to share.
There is a kingdom, peaceful and prosperous, ruled by a wise and powerful King. The citizens of this Kingdom enjoy lives of unparalleled quality and harmony.
You are one of these citizens. You recognize your great fortune, to live in this great Kingdom, in the rule of such a great King. The King has managed to perform remarkable feats of governance and leadership, resulting in outstanding results throughout his territory.
His reputation is truly beyond reproach. All who deal with him agree that he is somehow fair yet generous, brilliant yet simple. Those in his presence feel his strength palpably, yet also recognize an inherent grace about his manner. Even his skeptics, after a single encounter, are stunned at the sincerity of their own conversions.
You have heard a peculiar rumor about this King, and the stories about him tend to ring with a resounding truth. You have heard:
He abhors the color blue.
This sounds so unusual, for this figure of nobility and wisdom to harbor a hatred for a hue, but there it is. He hates blue. You have heard so many stories, from multiple sources, that he will not tolerate a shred of the color, even a mere glimpse. Apparently, he will immediately and completely obliterate any trace of it he discovers.
And the more you consider this rumor, the more reason you find to believe it. You see the castle he lives in, clad in rich golds and crimson, maybe the occasional ivory — but certainly nothing even close to resembling a blue. You see those whom he considers his friends, even his children, and not a smidge of blueness can be found on their persons. You start to realize that, within the King’s purview, the color blue is not really to be found anywhere in his sight that you can think of.
As you begin to reconcile yourself with the truth of what you have heard, you are abruptly summoned to a meeting with the King. The King himself! You are humbled, and elated, and nervous, but soon you are hit with a truly deep-seated worry. Wide-eyed, you consider yourself and your surroundings.
The color blue is not exactly prominent in your home, but there are bits of it there. You wonder if you could cover them, if the King decided to drop in for a visit.
You do not use the color blue at work very much, but it has not been entirely absent from your labors either. You wonder, if the King were to ask your coworkers, about your habits and behaviors, if it would eventually rise in the conversation as evidence against you.
You have noticed the color blue among your friends, but said nothing. Would the King meet this with disapproval?
How total is his intolerance toward blue, anyway? Will he mind if you once wore blue outfits frequently? If the color is ever-present within the private recesses of your own mind? Does he really kill, on the spot, those caught with even just one thread of blue on their person?
And as you prepare for your meeting with the King, as you sweat and try to cover blue-tinged stains and hide blue-shaded things, as you consider even the color of the blue in your veins and the specks of your eyes and the traces of your memory and the words that pass through your lips…
… would you not, in your approach of Him, feel a little bit of fear?
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” — Phillipians 2:12 (ESV)
“And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear…” — Isaiah 11:3 (ESV).