Thursday, September 16, 2010

What I Love About Catholicism: The Fear of the Lord

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. His praise endures for ever! - Psalm 111:10

The Hebrew word used for "fear" in this verse is yir'ah. It means 1) fear, terror, fearing a) fear, terror b) awesome or terrifying thing (object causing fear) c) fear (of God), respect, reverence, piety d) revered. The Hebrew root of the word is yare', meaning fearing, reverent, afraid. It is interesting that the word yare', when pronounced, sounds like "Yahweh," which was the name God identified Himself with when He spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14. ("I AM THAT I AM" Hebrew: hayah, 'asher, hayah, translated to HAH.)

I like to delve into the Hebrew and Greek meaning of words when I start to dig into God's Word because many times, there are deeper truths to be found. Sometimes when we hear Scripture, there can be a tendency to gloss over portions that we've heard over and over again. Looking into the etymology of a word can be very beneficial. (For those wondering, I've used the online Blue Letter Bible for years. I have many Bible study aids but find myself doing more research online. I've not found a Catholic counterpart to the BLB yet. If you know of one, please let me know.)

The "fear of the Lord" is sadly lacking from many churches. Israel knew how to fear the Lord. Whenever anyone had an encounter with God in the Old Testament, they fell prostrate before Him and were filled with awe. (Moses in Ex. 3:6, King David in 1 Chron. 13:12, Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1:28) Even our Blessed Mother Mary had the same response for the Angel Gabriel immediately said to her, "Fear not." (St. Luke 1:30)

I lost the fear of the Lord when I was involved in the non-denominational church. It was no surprise since there was little to support it. When you have a church that creates a coffeehouse atmosphere complete with cool music and large screens hanging from the ceiling, pumping out slickly produced videos, it's difficult to find a place for fear.

The fear of the Lord has been hijacked by an misunderstood desire to become intimate with Him. Instead of encouraging the faithful to understand and worship the holiness of God, many churches have removed that foundation that elicits awe by saying we need not to be "afraid" of God because He loves us. Well, of course He loves us. But He is still God.

Israel, God's nation and His people, the Israelites, understood fear. The Levitical priests would wear bells sewn into the hems of their robes and a rope would be tied around their waist. As the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, the soft jingle of bells would be heard. If the bells stopped ringing, something happened; and the men outside would pull the rope to literally drag the priest out from the Holy of Holies because they themselves knew if they tried to enter the sacred area that held the Ark of the Covenant, they would die. That's how much they feared the Lord God Almighty. And rightly so.

God has shown Himself in fire, that purging element that eliminates all impurity. He has parted the Red Sea and provided manna in the desert. His Son stilled the storms and walked on water. All these and more should be enough to send us to our knees as we ponder the great mystery of His love for us. The pure holiness of Jesus Christ, His sinless life, and His ultimate sacrifice should also drive us to our knees as we bow before Him and say, "I am not worthy." Our Father
understand this but loves us so deeply that He has offered us redemption.

I am beginning to reclaim this sense of fear and awe through my Catholic faith. The sacraments, the Bible, the catechism, the Magisterium, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass -- all play their part in reminding me that the Trinity is holy and to be feared.

Fear isn't in fashion these days. Everyone wants easy and comfortable. It isn't comfortable to say, "God is to be feared." Just the other day, I heard a woman call in a Catholic radio show. She had divorced her husband but was now returning to the Catholic Church and wanted to do things right. She was starting to date other men, who were none too pleased to find out she did not believe in pre-marital sex. Her response to them was, "It's wrong. I fear God and I fear for my soul if I involved myself like that."

Her answer was so refreshing and sadly, so rare. I can't remember the last time I heard a woman say such a thing, or a man. Instead, singles are encouraged by our culture to do whatever feels good, which often includes having sex with someone outside of marriage. But this woman knew that God was calling her to a higher standard. And she feared Him.

Ask any parent -- fear isn't such a bad thing when dealing with children. I know my brother and I towed the line on many an occasion because we didn't want to get in trouble with our parents. Yes, we feared them but only because we knew the consequences when we disobeyed them. Not only would we have to deal with the misery of our poor choice, but the unpleasant act of correction when our parents discovered our transgression. We also knew that the source of those rules in our lives, was their love.

Fear keeps us in line. It is not to control, but to guide us toward a better life. You would think such fear would have been placed within the hearts of Adam and Eve when God told them that everything was permissible except to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. But they did it anyway and paid a steep price, as did all of mankind.

Do I really fear disobeying God? Does the possibility of falling into sin put the fear of God in me? How calloused has my heart become? These are questions I'm asking myself more and not being happy with the answers. I can see how the non-denominational church was lacking in defining sin and explaining thoroughly its consequences. There is certainly a place for joy but there is also a place for serious examination of one's conscience.

I am finding that I need to be reminded of these ancient truths on regular basis. Sure, within the non-denominational church, there would be a "series" on sin every once in awhile. But only within the Catholic Church do we have the gift of remembrance that occurs each Sunday at Mass. Each time the priest raises the Eucharist to re-present it to our Father in memory of what Jesus did on the Cross, I am reminded. I need this reminding so badly. Because my flesh, which would much prefer the soft cushion of a "feel good" religion, knows that only by meditating on this truth will I be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. The more I recognize how sin poisons my relationship with God, the faster I can avoid it. The more I fear the Lord, the more wise I become to the lies of this world. The fear of the Lord, brings life.


Robin said...

This is a great post. I referred to it on my FB post. More of us Protestants need to hear this and to understand this.

I have a question for you - regarding Catholic beliefs. It is a stumbling block to me. I have understood the teaching of the RC regarding other religions to be, that if they earnestly seeking their god and following all that religion requires - that they as much as recognizing the one and only God and will have the opportunity to enter Heaven. What do you think about this? I have always read in the Bible there is but one way to our God and that is thru His Son Jesus.

I would really appreciate any insight you can give me on this.

kkollwitz said...

"I've used the online Blue Letter Bible for years."

Me, too. It's indispensable.

mwa said...

this recalls to my mind how in the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, just before the people's communion, the Deacon calls out, "Approach with fear of God and with faith."

Mary Rose said...

Thanks for stopping by, Robin, and your questions. I, myself, am still researching and learning about my Catholic faith, so in a way, I'm right there with you! One helpful website is Catholic Answers. Here is a link to a commonly misunderstood belief of Catholics: Salvation outside the Catholic Church

Only God knows the heart of man, and so judgement is solely in His domain. But I will say that acceptance of 1) man's sinfulness 2) need for salvation and 3) Jesus Christ's atoning death on the Cross as payment for an individual's sin - would all be necessary for salvation. No other religious figure claimed to have died for mankind's sin in order to atone for it. Instead, other religions encourage its adherents to live life either in perfect obedience to a certain set of guidelines; which we as Christians know is not possible. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23) Earnestly seeking God is to me, the beginning. Understanding how one's sin separates one from God and the need for reconciliation through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the goal. I hope that clarifies things but please, post again if you have more questions. I also encourage you to check out another website, Fisheaters. :-)

kkollwitz - I couldn't do my Bible studies without it! So glad to know you also use it. I just wish the deuterocanon (or some know as the Apocrypha, the books that the Catholic Bible includes) were also added. Ah, well. Maybe someday. :-)

mwa, I must attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy! That sounds tremendous!!! That exhortation would certainly make people think before approaching to receive communion!

Robin said...

Thanks so much!!

Mike Maley said...

Don't forget that "Fear of God" is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I like your blog! There is a common thread between some of your postings and those posted on my blog.