The fear of the Lord has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. On the one hand, I understand what it means, but in some ways, it is a mystery. We know we should fear the Lord because He is holy and His wrath is terrifying. At the same time, His love and mercy are comforting and we know those who love Him are safe in His arms. The paradox of fearing and loving God has led to a lot of thought, study, and confusion for me.
Perhaps you are in the same boat. Thankfully, the Lord cleared all this up for me in an instant this week. I was reading in the book of Proverbs, one of my favorite books in the Bible, and one I have read countless times. Yet for the first time, I saw something I’d overlooked before.
What cleared up my understanding about the fear of the Lord is the first sentence of Proverbs 8:13: “To fear the Lord is to hate evil.” Maybe that’s not a lightning bolt revelation for you, but for me, the nickel dropped. As usual, the teachings of God are beautifully simple yet profoundly deep. The fear of the Lord begins and ends with hating what is evil. We demonstrate our fear of God by hating what He hates. If we do not hate what He does, we tolerate and engage in those things He detests. That is indeed a fearful place to live.
With this definition of what it means to fear the Lord in hand, it now changes how we read other scriptures relating to fearing God. Try replacing “the fear of the Lord” with “to hate evil.” For example, we can read Psalm 34:11 as, “Come, children, listen to me; I will teach you to hate evil.” Psalm 111:10 could start, “To fear evil is the beginning of wisdom…” Proverbs 2:4-5 can be understood as, “If you seek it (wisdom) like silver and search for it (wisdom) like hidden treasure, then you will understand what it is to hate evil and discover the knowledge of God.”
I’m not in any way trying to add to or change scripture, I’m simply applying the definition of the fear of the Lord, as found in scripture, to other parts of scripture. The Bible is always best understood when we let it interpret itself. Scripture will explain scripture. We need no other study tool.
Understanding the fear of the Lord to mean “hate evil” is both clarifying and comforting. With a better grasp of what it means to fear the Lord, we can better understand how to apply those passages of God’s Word that mention fearing the Lord. It is also comforting because some people have taken the fear of the Lord to be an ominous and paralyzing concept. When we hate what God hates, we need not fear His wrath or judgment. Surrendering our likes and preferences to God’s will keeps us safely under His eternal protection.
We should fear the Lord, but we should do so by understanding what that means. Having the fear of the Lord in our lives will change our desires, shape our worldview, and give us righteous hate for the evil in this world. When we hate evil as God does, it allows us to love righteousness as He does. To put it simply in terms that have rattled around my brain for nearly forty years, “Love God, hate sin.” The fear of the Lord begins and ends with hating evil. Hate what God hates, and love what He loves. Live for Jesus and nothing else.