As Jesus taught in the Synagogue at Capernaum, the congregation was “astounded” (NRSV). After Jesus cast out the demon from the man with the unclean spirit, they were “amazed” (NRSV). Mark uses two different Greek words to describe the reaction. of the crowds, presumably to point out that while both were reactions of awe, they came in different forms. This makes sense to me. The reaction I might have to a excellent teacher is going to look markedly different than the reaction I might have to seeing an exorcism first hand. Both are awe inspiring, but one is perhaps more visceral.
As 21st century Christians, we’ve become pretty comfortable with awe being our go-to reaction to the divine. Who doesn’t love to sing “Our God is an Awesome God”?
What we’re decidedly less comfortable with, however, is the fear of the Lord, which is what makes our recitation of Psalm 111 this Sunday so delightfully counter cultural. The closing line of this instructional, acrostic poem of praise reads, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. For the ancient Hebrews who sang this psalm, who used to it teach their children in the way of the LORD, that fear wasn’t about the Saw movie franchise or the feeling you get just before a roller coaster. The fear of the LORD is the awe you feel in his presence. It comes when we realize that God is so wholly other, so utterly holy, so unimaginably loving and desires a relationship with each of us. Sure, they were afraid that they couldn’t handle the holiness of God and that it might wipe them out entirely,
but if that’s all we think of when we read “the fear of the LORD” in the Old Testament, we do a great disservice to the chosen people of God. Our proper approach to God is with fear and awe, recognizing the great power of God while attempting to comprehend God’s great love at the same time. Pondering that for a while is no doubt, the beginning of wisdom.