Faith and ‘The fear of God’
Christ has Ascended! From Earth to Heaven!
I often choose the quotes and subjects for my podcasts based on what I want to learn more deeply myself, while preparing the way for a deeper understanding of our regeneration by grace.
I am going to be spending several podcasts on faith – a complex virtue. Faith is not understandable by our mind, but by our heart. Just as one cannot have obedience without humility, one cannot have faith without also having ‘the fear of God. “The ‘fear of God’ is the beginning of virtue and it is said to be the offspring of faith.” St Isaac the Syrian
That is our task today – to look at what is means to have a healthy ‘fear of God’, which leads to developing faith.
My resources for this podcast are:
The Bible Dictionary
The Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian
Abba Dorotheos, Discourses and Sayings
Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias
Let’s start with the biblical concept of faith versus contemporary definition of faith.
Contemporary definition of faith:
Faith, faithfulness in contemporary English is derived from Latin fides. In a worldly sense faith denotes trust and dependability.
The biblical concept from the Bible Dictionary:
“Throughout the Scriptures faith is the human response to God’s self-revelation.” When God reveals Himself people fall down in fear, humbled and trembling. From such a revelation there is a dynamic deepening of faith and change bringing forth actions in obedience to God. For example:
St. Paul on the road to Damascus
The Light of Christ’s divinity on Mt. Tabor that was revealed to his Apostles
“Old Testament authors use the ‘fear of the Lord’ to underscore the importance of submission to God through what He has revealed objectively; this submission occurs subjectively in the minds, wills and emotions of the those who trust God’s word.
Since the fall of humanity God nurtures and inspires faith in Him through what He says and does for the benefit of people who need Him and fear Him.
Thus biblical faith is a kind of limited personal knowledge of God.” The Bible Dictionary
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and of faith…
What are the elements of a healthy ‘fear of the Lord’?
“The ‘fear of God’ is the beginning of virtue and it is said to be the offspring of faith. It is sown in the heart when a man withdraws his mind from the attractions of the world to collect its thoughts, wandering about from distraction, into reflection upon the restitution to come.” Homily 1, St. Isaac the Syrian
“Indeed, it is this fear of God that helps our heart emerge… As soon as this godly fear takes hold of our heart and we begin to feel God’s life-giving energy, we enter into a personal relationship with the personal God, with the God who has revealed Himself, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This relationship is an event, which transcends all human understanding.” Remember Thy First Love, Archimandrite Zacharias
Most saints agree that there are stages in the development of the ‘fear of the Lord’. The first stage is initiated by fear of eternal damnation or punishment – our wake up call.
Both my husband and I began our conversion process with such a wake up call.
Let’s here what Abba Dorotheos has to say about the stages in learning the ‘fear of God’:
“There are two kinds of fear: one preliminary, the other perfect; the one found in beginners–as someone called it ‘of the devout’; the other in those perfect in holiness, of those having arrived at true love. One forms a desire of God through fear of condemnation; that is as we have said, the starting point. His starting point is not ‘what is good’ but the fear of torments.”
The desire is very important – for this is the movement of our will towards God. God will not act in us without permission. Our desire to know God gives God permission to help us.
“Another forms the desire for God because he loves God himself, loves Him and knows what is acceptable to God. Such a man is goodness itself, knowing what it is to be with God. See! This is the man who has true love, which St. John calls ‘perfect love’, and that love leads a man onto perfect fear. Such a man fears and keeps to God’s will, not for fear of punishment, not to avoid condemnation, but, as we have said, because he has tasted the sweetness of being with God; he fears he may fall away from it; he fears to be turned away from it. This is the perfect fear, which is generated from perfect love and throws out that preliminary fear. That is why St. John says that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. But it is impossible to come to perfect fear except through that preliminary fear.
There are, as St. Basil says, three stages through which we can be pleasing to God. The first, that of fearing punishment; makes us acceptable and we are in a state of slaves. (We are slaves to our passions and fallen state, which the fear of God brings to light)
The second, the state of servants working for wages, fulfilling orders for our own advantage and, by doing so, earning our wages. (learning to please God and follow his commandments)
The third is the state of sons, where we strive for the highest good. For a son, when he comes to maturity, does his father’s will not for fear of being beaten, nor to receive a reward from him, but because he knows he is loved. He loves and honors his father, and is convinced that all his father possesses is his own. Such a man is worthy to hear, ‘You are no longer a slave, but a son, an heir of God through Christ’.” Abba Dorotheos, Sayings and Discourses
Some quotes from the Bible Dictionary along with my commentary about how to acquire ‘the fear of God’:
1. “Someone who fears God dreads disappointing Him.” Not only do I dread disappointing Him, I dread being separated from Him, His grace and love. This is the next step up from fear of punishment or damnation. Fear of losing God’s love and grace becomes more of a motivation for me than punishment.
2. ‘To fear God’ is to believe Him with a reverential awe, even to the point that emotional trepidation occurs.” How often have I experienced this trepidation when, I see how God has forgiven me for my past. In more practical terms – how He delivered me from an auto accident. Think of how many times God has saved us from ourselves. He, Who commanded the sea to be calm!
3.‘To fear God’ is to know Him personally.” Once we begin to repent, humble ourselves before God, start to desire to be and act from obedience with love, our deeper regeneration by grace begins. We learn to regard God with reverential fear, for He is our Creator – this puts us in a humble position, which allows for a personal relationship with God as I talked about in my last podcast.
4. ‘To fear the Lord’ is used synonymously with to serve Him in sincerity and truth (Joshua 24:14). “
“The beginning of man’s true life is the fear of God. But the fear of God will not be persuaded to dwell in a soul together with distraction over outward things. For by serving the senses, the heart is scattered, driven away from delight in God…” St. Isaac the Syrian
5. To serve God with sincerity and truth requires our ascetic labors to draw our senses away from the outward pleasures of the world. To please God from love vs. our ego is the challenge. “When we love God, our reverential ‘fear of the Lord’ produces joy and fulfillment.” (Eccles. 12:13).
6. ‘To fear Him is to maintain a firm conviction that the Lord’s directives are reliable (Ps. 119:89–91). Even in the face of our trials and tribulations, the key is to maintaining a firm conviction that the Lord’s directives are reliable comes through the consistency of our prayer and sacramental life in the Church and living the Sermon on the Mount. For those who missed my podcast on Prayer during Holy Week – perhaps listening to it will be a support to you in your process?
7. “Through Jeremiah God predicted that he would make an everlasting covenant through which He would enable people ‘to fear Him forever’ (Jer. 32:40), a covenant in which God will write His law on the hearts of His people and allow them all to know Him personally.” (Jer. 31:33–34).
“The consistent theme of salvation by faith and our ‘fear of the Lord’ can be traced through God’s acts and deeds in both the Old and New Testaments.”
“Be wise, then, and lay the ‘fear of God’ as the foundation of your journey, and in but a few days it will bring you before the gates of the kingdom with no windings on the way.” St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 1
In our next podcast we will continue our study of faith related to love vs worldly knowledge, as well as degrees of faith.
Christ has Ascended! From earth to heaven!
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