Fear of the Lord, Proverbs 9:10

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.

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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?

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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.”

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“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.

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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.

However.

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?

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“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).

On the Nature of Humans and Their Guns

I am no great authority, and claim no superior wisdom. I just have thoughts.

“When did our country get like this?”

I have read a couple social media posts like this today, and I can only answer: When human beings began living in it. As long as humans occupy a space, awful acts will happen in that space. This is a perpetual truth, with a veracity that is interdependent of your distaste for it. In other words: It is absolutely true, even if you do not like my saying so.

Whether it is violence against indigenous, blacks, gays, etc. — brains too small to comprehend individuality will overemphasize differences in groups and labels to a potentially dangerous extent. You can certainly see a history of this violence in America, along with acts more random in their targeting as well. I see no reason why it would cease any time soon.

Intellectual honesty

For Americans to claim there is no solution to mass shootings is to ignore the existence of entire countries where they occur at a statistically significantly lower rate. For example, Canada and Australia, combined, had 5 mass shootings in the years 2000 through 2014. If there were less guns, there would be less shootings. That is math, not ideology. Let me address any counterpoints with a single, simple question: In a world with 0 guns, how many shootings would there be?

Of course, in America, yanking guns away from its citizenry is no longer a realistic measure nor a politically attractive message. I just wish those who were so passionate about guns would be honest enough to admit that mass shootings occur because of them. There is plenty of room for great conversation around opinions such as “I believe Americans should have the right to own firearms, but mass shootings are terrible.” I can respect such a view (and basically hold it myself). However, I would remind people that the ideas of gun rights and gun consequences are inseparable: As long as people own guns, some of those people will use them to murder other people. If you believe those people should have the right to own the guns they are using to murder others, at some point you have had to either reconcile this inseparability with yourself or you have ignored it altogether.

I suspect that many “gun nuts” have a fondness for weapons that outweighs their compassion. I wonder if one could be honest, then, and say, “Hey, I do not mind if there are mass shootings. I understand this is an inevitable consequence of humans having guns. I just believe that the benefit I gain from having one myself is greater than such costs incurred elsewhere.” Some probably have, to some extent or another, I guess.

Phrases such as “guns don’t kill people” are meant to instill a sense that guns have no inherent moral standing, that they are merely a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver that is potentially misused for violence by a wielder of ill intent. Consider, though, that the intended function of a gun is to harm. Again, I am not entirely anti-gun; after all, if you need to bring deadly force on a target, a gun can be a very effective option. I suspect that the most staunchly pro-gun advocate would still at least agree with the idea that guns are to be taken seriously, not lightly.

The nature of guns is perfectly suited to the nature of humanity: Both are inevitably destructive.

Anything can be an idol. I do not believe it would be a stretch to say that many Americans worship guns, and/or the country itself. The bizarre juxtaposition that America often has between its militant patriotism and its God-Bless-America Christianity is an odd brew, for sure. I often get the feeling that many Americans would be surprised to learn that the Bible has very little to say about this country, specifically. The sentiment that God should bless America in some special sense is a strange one.

Again: I am not saying America is not a great country full of fantastic things. I am grateful to live here. I have no intentions to move out, no matter who wins the big election. I think it is okay to have a nuanced, admit-its-faults opinion of this country, or often other subjects, rather than immediately kneejerk to one side of a very black-and-white spectrum.

Neither ‘side’ of these debates are ever innocent, after all, as much as they like to act like they are. Seeing people call for Muslims not to be judged as a whole due to the actions of one seem to conveniently forget this sentiment when railing against Christianity, but any Christian who believes a difference in faith makes all of that faith’s members perfect are profoundly unaware of the message of the Word they purport to follow. Lord knows Christians spew plenty of venom following violent events.

Looking ahead

As I have tried to make clear: I can respect responsible gun ownership, I can be fond of America, I just feel a little saddened by some of the thoughts I see expressed out there, too. A world without guns would have a lot less shootings — but I can acknowledge the reality of the complex world we do live in, the one with guns, one that has many different issues intersecting with any particular person or time. Lots of people who are passionate about lots of things may be served well to take a breath and consider their words before lashing out in response to the latest news cycle.

Perhaps I am possibly only adding fuel to the fire by blogging about such issues. I am a cynic, but I also believe people are capable of greatness, I promise. I am imperfect. I do not have supreme answers. But many seem to think that they do, and that is disheartening. I would love to see more people admit that stuff is complicated and they do not know everything. Saddest to me, though, might be my fellow believers who are quicker to jump to the defense of guns than they are to the cause of Christ.

So I have to wonder: As a Christian, what is my proper response to tragedy? There is room for thought and conversation there, as well. There will be other opportunities, for sure.

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“But avoid foolish controversies…” — Titus 3:9.

“Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” — Isaiah 40:8.

“… what does the Lord require of you? Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8.

Gymnastic Jesus

I believe that Jesus encompasses more than we could ever fully discuss.

In my own modest attempts to encapsulate the Almighty, there is one particular tidbit I keep coming back to. If you have known me for long enough, this is likely a bit you have heard before.

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When I was a child, I heard about this idea that Jesus could do anything. I would hear this expressed in classic Bible stories: Jesus can grant sight to a blind man, he can walk on water, he can even raise the dead.

“With God, all things are possible.” This is the verse (Matthew 19:26) they unpack in Veggietales’ Dave and the Giant Pickle. In this segment, Larry the Cucumber is shown to struggle with this thought as he asked, in a way I found unforgettable, “Do you think God would turn me into a chicken?” Why not? God can do anything, yeah?

In an interpersonal sense, we learned that when we pray, Jesus hears us. There was no limit on how many people he could hear, or what languages he understood. This Savior we learned about was an all-powerful, limitless figure.

How could a child, a boy like me, wrap his mind around that grand concept?

… Honestly? Whenever I came across the sentiment of Jesus being able to do anything — I always imagined him doing cartwheels.

No, seriously!

I would visualize myself looking out the living room window and catching a privileged glimpse of Christ performing effortless, flawless cartwheels in our yard.

Why? Because I couldn’t do cartwheels. [ Still can’t, as long as we’re being honest. ] I think there is a lot to be said on the idea that we often measure God against our weaknesses (the Bible may even speak to this as well, hm), but as a kid, that was the illustration I gravitated toward for years to come. Jesus doing cartwheels. Because I couldn’t.

That’s kinda silly, right? Childish, even.

I can’t help but still think, though, I guess, just sorta wonder a little bit, if Jesus will greet me in Paradise with a deft little cartwheel. Can you imagine that? Just for me. Just to  delight me all the more, in a way only he could.

I can see him yelling “ERIC!!!” across a palatial courtyard, with an impropriety only an old friend could muster, before catching my sight and performing that long-awaited divine cartwheel, my Heavenly eyes watering with joy beyond measure before we embrace in a fit of fond laughter.

I mean, I doubt that’s how it works; but, hey, Jesus can do anything.