The Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Fear of the Lord – Pentecost 2019


Those who have been reading igNation since its inception may know that this is my fifth entry on Pentecost. I’ve dealt before with the Holy Spirit’s gifts of piety, wisdom, knowledge and courage. I’m dealing this year with fear of the Lord.

This is the gift that helps us to be aware of the glory and majesty of God. We need to be careful when we speak of a fear of the Lord. It cannot be seen in terms of cringing in human fear or terror.

When I speak of being afraid of spiders, snakes, high heights, terrorists or electrical storms, I am speaking of a negative kind of fear. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a positive kind of fear.

That is why words such as wonder and awe give a more complete idea of what this gift is all about. A good analogy might be what happens when we stand in the presence of someone we greatly admire and respect, someone who qualifies as a personal hero.

How much more should I tremble in nervousness when I find myself in the presence of God’s goodness. God is not physically present to me, but God is with me whenever I find myself encountering holiness.

We are told in scripture that a fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is because it orients our mindset to God whereby we are the finite, dependent creatures, and God is the infinite, all-powerful Creator. It is one of the foundations of our religious life.

In a healthy spiritual life, one fears God out of love. It cannot be the other way around, that is, being forced to love God out of duress. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that our major sin is when we have no fear of God. We have respect for a person when we sense that he or she is described as God-fearing (that is, has a sense of the divine in all things).

When I experience wonder and awe, I am conscious of the fact that God is the perfection of all I desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power and perfect love. The fear of the Lord is the desire not to offend God.

St. Thomas Aquinas writes of this as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a “filial fear,” like a child’s fear of offending a parent. He opposes that to a “servile fear” that is a fear of punishment. In other words, I don’t praise God out of a fear of hell or eternal damnation.

Sacred Scripture uses the word fear over 300 times in reference to God. A great example of that fear is Moses before the burning bush. He reverences himself because he knows that he is standing on holy ground.

Psalm 8 has a verse that sums up the attitude or orientation that wonder and awe lead us to. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” In other words, fear of the Lord is a profound respect for the majesty of God.

I realize my creatureliness and dependency upon God and would never want to be separated from this loving God. It is natural to respond with a dynamic and vibrant sense of adoration and reverence.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Esther Buckley
    Posted at 20:28h, 13 June Reply

    Thank you Father Shane for your explanation of ‘Fear of the Lord.’

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