Sitting in Sunday School as a kid, Mrs. Her Name Is Hard to Recall told me the “fear of the Lord” was reverential awe for God, not being scared.
Slouching in Bible College waiting to be kicked out, Dr. I Will Protect His Identity told me this answer was inadequate and overly soft. He proceeded to expound at some depth on the idea of the fear of the Lord.
Much later as a philosophy graduate student in love with Plato, I was intent on learning exactly what the fear of the Lord is, because the Bible said in Proverbs 1:7 that it was the first step to knowledge or wisdom.
What is the fear of the Lord?
I think my Sunday School teacher was sort of right in the context of teaching children. The fear of the Lord is not being afraid as I was afraid of the Hound of the Baskerville. God is love and not horrible.
Non-Christian friends often think Christians live in constant terror of being smitten, but this is wrong. If God wanted to smite me, I would already be smitten. Instead our fear is motivated by love.
Perfect love casts out the bad source of fear, but longs to better serve the Beloved and fears giving pain.
As I got older my Bible college professor helped me, because he reminded me that it was scary to fall into God’s righteous hands unprepared. In myself, when I am most myself before redemption, I am unfit for the joys of Paradise. The love of God is wrath to me and Beauty will appear horrible.
It is part of the horror that is me that I find love wrathful and beauty terrible.
I am often too distracted to be afraid, but the dialectic, the path to wisdom, reminds me of the terror of being human. I am mortal man doomed to die. Eternity is in my heart but I cannot live in it by nature. My heart’s deepest longings are often what is worst for my own happiness and God wants my happiness.
It is fearful thing to be confused in a reasonable cosmos, selfish in a loving universe, and a dullard in a world of wonder.
An awe for God, His nature, and His works, and even a little bit of self-awareness is terrifying. I am terrified that having tasted a bit of the good things of God that I would miss those good things.
How do I know if I fear God?
I will love my neighbour to show my love of God. This love will make afraid of being cruel to His image in the people around me. I will treat the office workers as if they were Jesus to me.
I will read Scriptures with my whole heart and mind. I will honour Scriptures by asking them my best question and waiting to hear answers. When the truth is revealed to me, my love of Truth will motivate eager obedience to the new insights.
I will love God so much that the thought of missing His goodness, truth, and beauty will fill me with dread. I will pray for His grace and mercy at all times, because love takes nothing for granted.