“’Is he—quite safe? I shall be rather nervous about meeting a lion.’
‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver, ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’
‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy.
‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Do you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’
–C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. Psalm 111:10
Why is fear of The Lord the beginning of wisdom? Why not love of The Lord? Or obedience or respect? Isn’t fear kind of a negative thing?
And yet in the Bible whenever people come into close contact with The Lord, it’s all cowering and shaking. There aren’t many cases of warm fuzzies or verses about how being around God was really fun and comfortable. Even the still, soft voice that spoke to Elijah came after raging tornadoes and forest fires.
But I’ve sat in prayer circles and heard enough Christian songs that would have me believe otherwise. Songs about how The Lord will keep me safe and warm and protected. Honestly? . . .Not sure where that comes from. Perhaps we Americans value safety and security as good things and so we project that idea of goodness onto God. But that sort of goodness is not what the Bible portrays.
In May I was able to take a day trip about two hours out of Buenos Aires to visit a special sort of zoo. We could call it an extreme petting zoo of sorts, where for an entrance fee of about $5, a tourist can actually enter into the cages with the animals.
They ease you into it. At the entrance to the back-woodsy, stinky little zoo is a fenced in area with a handful of both dogs and cubs. Lion and tiger cubs. The first thing we did upon arrival was enter into that little area and play with the cubs, who I suppose thought they were dogs. They were cute and playful and bounced around energetically and I was humming Lion King songs and contemplating taking one home to my apartment and surely my roommate would be okay with it eventually.
But the fun and games ended abruptly as we approached another fence and I saw the animal that I was going to confront next. There were two giant male lions laid out before us. One was stretched out on a picnic table and I was lead to his backside and showed exactly how to pet him and where. I’ll admit–the lions were mellow and I suspect I had some sort of sedative to thank for that. Nevertheless, I was fully aware that the lion’s paws were bigger than my face. And I was at his mercy. It was terrifying and thrilling and possibly the coolest thing I have ever done.
Needless to say, I made it out alive, but I did have my doubts there for a while. And I learned very tangibly that not all fear is a bad thing. Some fear is just good common sense.
So why does God want us to fear him? Fear of The Lord is acknowledgment of two things:
1. Our own sinfulness in light of God’s goodness.
Fearing The Lord doesn’t distrust his goodness. Fear is the result when one acknowledges that his goodness endangers our sinfulness. He is good, but that goodness doesn’t always feel good, because we aren’t always good.
His goodness isn’t safe. His goodness hurts. As the prophet Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips.” before the angel burns his lips with coals.
2. Fear of the Lord acknowledges God’s sovereignty. He has both the power and the right to demand or take anything he wants from us.
The week I left Argentina, God took a lot from me. My friends and job and home and the life I had made for myself there. I don’t know why. But he had the power and the right to do that.
I stood in worship at church this week, singing along with everybody else, asking for God’s glory and goodness to fill the sanctuary. And for the first time, I wanted to cower. And I wondered if anyone else felt fear in their heart as we sang those words.
I am learning what it feels like to fear The Lord and the things he might ask me to do in his name, and the pain of being purged of my sin day by day.
It’s funny that this feeling has come to me after having left family and friends to move to a foreign country. Sure, that was scary, but it was my dream and I was walking in the confidence that comes when your dream matches up with the reality of God’s will. Now that that dream is over, walking into the ominous cloud of normalcy seems like a much harder sacrifice to offer up. Maybe it was pride in me that craved adventure and usefulness and a different path than my peers. But pride and fear of The Lord can’t really coexist for very long.
You might wish to choose another sort of goodness over God’s righteous goodness, but no other goodness exists. Your cuddly, Feel-Good-God does not exist. You were mistaken to think you could take idle comfort in him–he does not want you to be comfortable.
He is not a dog that would live to please his master. He is a lion. The lion is beautiful and has soft fur, but nobody in their right mind would try to snuggle with one. His anger is our doom and his love is our salvation. We are at his mercy. He is worthy of our honor. He is worthy of our fear.
“Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh and trotted across to the Lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy