The phrase “fear of God” or “fear of the Lord” appears 131 times in the Bible.  That seems sufficient evidence of the importance of the concept.   How then are we to understand all those references to fear of the Lord?  Should we really be afraid of God who has been revealed as a loving father?  Is the fear of the Lord an ancient concept that we have outgrown?  Or is it a necessary part of each individual’s development toward loving God and receiving God’s love?  Can we love and fear God at the same time?  A passage in Deuteronomy says that is exactly what we must do. “So now,   O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?  Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today for your own well-being.”  (Deut. 10: 12-13)

It may seem strange that God should be both loved and feared.  Julian of Norwich assures us it must be that way.  She said: “Love and fear are siblings, rooted in us by the goodness of our Maker.”  They are inseparable and complimentary.  Julian adds: “Reverent fear pertains to the lordship and fatherhood of God as love pertains to his goodness.”

Typically, the term fear has negative implications for us.  It suggests a certain apprehension, perhaps even dread of some object, person or situation.  Examples: I have a fear of heights.  I fear loss of health or wealth.  I fear a person perceived as wiling and able to harm me in some way.   Does fear of the Lord have similar implications? It would serve little purpose to explain fear of God in terms of human fear or terror since fear of God implies a unique relationship.  In this context fear does not imply fright.  It ex-presses a feeling of respect that cannot be likened to any other emotion.  Fear of the incomprehensible holy God is part of the religious act by which the human creature presents himself to God in adoration, recognizing that he is entirely dependent and a sinner.

It seems we have lost an older sense of fear as an attitude of reverence and wonder.  Understood in that older sense, fear should open us up and allow us to explore our capacity for devotion in the presence of something larger and wiser than ourselves.