Lightning is an example of electricity in a raw, uncontrolled form. We all understand the importance of respecting it or suffering the consequences. We are also mindful of electricity in more controlled forms—say an electric fence or a power line. However, thanks to the work of Ben Franklin and others, we also understand that electricity is not something we have to be terrified of. Under the right conditions, we can minimize its hazardous potential and harness its great power. This understanding has liberated us in regard to powering our world and pushing technological advancements. (Whether we have always used those wisely is another question for another post).
Electricity is not a perfect analogy for God. It is an impersonal power, while God is a personal being. Electricity can be controlled and manipulated by us, while God cannot. But what I’m after in this comparison is the idea that revering God is like respecting electricity in that it both bring us liberation. God wants to be our friend (John 15:13-15), but He can’t be our buddy or pal—He can only be our Holy Friend. Revering God makes it possible for that wonderful relationship to happen.
This is why the writer of Proverbs tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). You can miss some beginnings and still move on (like the beginning of a ballgame or a song). Other beginnings aren’t quite as forgiving. If you miss the beginning of a novel, you need to go back and read it so you will fully grasp its trajectory. That’s also true in academic studies—if you miss the fundamental principles, you won’t be able to understand more advanced levels because they are built on those principles.
It’s very much that way with revering God. You simply cannot have wisdom if you don’t have reverence for God because wisdom is built upon it. Without reverence for God, we inevitably drift into making God into our image rather than allowing Him to make us into His—and there’s nothing wise about that!
Proverbs 9:10 is worth a deeper look. One of the features of many of the proverbs is parallelism—repeating the same truth in a slightly different way. For example, wisdom and understanding are obvious synonyms. So also are the phrases the fear of the Lord and knowledge of the Holy One. What is fear of the Lord? It is knowledge of the Holy One.
Proverbs 22:4 adds another layer to this when it tells us, “Humility is the fear of the Lord; its wages are riches and honor and life.” It all adds up. Fear of the Lord is knowledge of the Holy One, which is humility. This is why Jesus begins the beatitudes with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3).
There are more blessings from the fear of the Lord (the phrase is found a dozen times in Proverbs). It is a “fountain of life” (14:27), it leads to “life” (19:23), where “one rests content, untouched by trouble.” All of this is reason for us “to always be zealous for the fear of the Lord” (23:17).
That is liberation!