Attuned To “The Fear of the Lord”
(Isaiah 11:1-5; Lk. 10: 21)
In Isaiah’s description of the special one God will send (“A shoot from the stump of Jesse”), he lists a number of qualities this person will have. Wisdom, understanding, strength, and so forth. But one of them is this initially harsh sounding one, fear of the Lord. It’s worthwhile to get a fix on its real meaning.
This fear isn’t to be understood as fright or terror, but more as giving due respect, taking seriously, not ignoring or overlooking. It’s akin to the deference a courtroom would give the judge by standing up when she entered.
The person who fears the Lord defers to God — as eminently real, solid, a force (the force) to be reckoned with. Fearing the Lord is the opposite of treating God as some passing interest one can take or leave. Rather it is to experience God as the most real of all realities, the ground floor beneath all that is. God is someone “deserving our notice.”
I use the word “notice” because in the Gospels, that’s just what Jesus does; he notices God all over the place. He proceeds as if the most fully existent and substantial reality there is — is his Father. This is the exact opposite of treating God as a take-it-or-leave-it notion only religious types would entertain.
And in this section in Luke, you see just this noticing happen as Jesus comes upon a group of children. He notices the way they intuitively “get” God, how in their innocence and trust they are spontaneously tuned into his Father’s ways. Caught by this, he bursts out in prayer, “Though You’ve hidden these things from the wise and the learned, Father, You have revealed them to the childlike.” This is Jesus’ own Fear of The Lord, his own taking God seriously, his own according the respect (better reverence) due his Father. Hardly something set off to the side, his Abba generates awe, the root experience behind that overused word “awesome.”
And Jesus has high sensitivity to where that awe is showing up around him, in this case in these childlike ones and in their recognition of the bedrock truth of God coming through Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus’ fear of the Lord has him noticing His Father’s presence in the world, spotting the weight and touch of the Father’s “being there.”
Which leads to the question, what is our own fear of the Lord? Where does it come out, and in what are places in life do we sense the reality and presence of God sounding through?
One might be in our own feel for the truth; i.e., in our resistance to falsehood, in our desire to defend the truth of things and to search out what’s genuine so as to set it off against what’s false. Things are not true just because someone says they are, or even because the majority of people think they are. Truth (capital T) is something more fundamental; it underlies any and all particular truth.
A current instance of this is the strong reaction to what’s being called “fake news,” those Facebook sites and blogs that claim truth for things that are in fact false, that present things to be the case which are in fact the opposite. With this comes the worry that such widespread deceit undercuts anything as being trustworthy and genuine, that it turns everything into surface images with little confidence there’s anything real under that surface.
To react in this way is to “notice” truth. It is to notice Who it is behind all truth. This is to give the God of truth the respect the truth deserves, to take the God of veracity seriously. It’s a modern form of fearing the Lord.
Another instance might be our feel for what’s fair and just. It comes across in Isaiah’s description of God’s favored one, “Not by appearance shall he judge, not by hearsay shall he decide. But He shall judge the poor with justice.” It comes up in the feeling of resistance that rises up when you meet injustice. It shows itself in the desire make things right, to put them on the up and up, to protest against back room deals and inside trading and all those situations where the playing field has been tilted before the game begins.
This is to “notice” justice and injustice, to notice the God of justice who would “decide aright for the afflicted of the land.” This is to fear (take seriously) the justice of God and to give due deference to the God who stands behind it.
A third example might be our compassion for the poor, our outreach to those whom society has tried to put beyond reach. It’s that something inside which says this is wrong. It’s that inner prod which protests the marginalization of whole blocks of people who have just as much God-given dignity as those standing in the center of the frame.
Again, this is to “notice” God’s special ones. It’s to give respect to these least of the brothers and sisters because in honoring them you’re giving respect to the God who loves them. It’s to revere, to “fear” God, to act as if the God who is on the side of the downtrodden is to be taken with all seriousness.
The Fear of the Lord. Practicing the virtue of giving God the glory, of having God “count” in life. Might it be one more way of celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of our Charism which from the beginning “noticed” God’s truth, got behind God’s justice, and gave special reverence to God’s beloved ones, the poor and the captives whom Jesus comes to set free.
Thanks for this very helpful reflection. This morning (Christmas Eve) we had the Isaiah passage for our reading. I had to stop at the words “and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” Never thought of it like that. Your explanation helped me.
Have a blessed Christmas Season.