The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. His praise endures forever!
The word “fear” not only means to be afraid, but to be in “awe” of. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend how you can fit both concepts into one word. An example that comes to mind is what if you were to meet a famous person—a star athlete, the President of the United States, an actor, an actress. Let’s imagine that this person walked into your home or your office alone, just them and you. After the initial shock and surprise, like is this really happening, there would be some awe and there would be some fear. The fear would be of saying the wrong thing, or not knowing how to start the conversation. So, even if you met a famous person, there would still be some fear involved.
Of course, I want to meet the Lord face to face. That is our goal as Christians. There is a sense of awe, that He is the Lord. And there is also a genuine sense of fear, which stems from a profound sense of inadequacy to be worthy to stand in His presence. This is what Psalm 111 is talking about. The beginning of wisdom, the beginning of what it means to be wise in life, is an understanding of how we stand in relationship to God. God is beyond comprehension and beyond understanding, as we pray in the Divine Liturgy. His is uncreated, something we cannot understand fully. His ability to show mercy, love, forgiveness, and kindness is beyond anything we can imagine.
One of the first questions to ponder when a person wants to go to confession is based on the First Commandment—I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:2-3) In reflecting on this commandment, the question is posed “Has God been the source and center of my life?” A “yes” answer shows profound faith and wisdom, though it can’t possibly true at all times. A “no, but trying” answer is real, and shows humility and intention. A “no, not really thinking about it” answer is the opposite of wisdom. It is foolishness.
The beginning of wisdom is the idea that God is the source (creator) and center (focus) of life. Because He is the one who has given us life to begin with, and the central focus of life is supposed to be preparing for eternal life. The wisest investment one can make in time and effort is an investment in faith and works of faith. For these will have eternal reward or eternal punishment.
Psalm 111 describes many of the attributes of God, which make Him so wonderful. He is full of honor and majesty in which (v. 3) He is gracious and merciful (v. 4). He is a provider and is mindful of His covenant with His people (v. 5). He has shown His power (v. 6), and is faithful, just, and trustworthy (v. 7) God sent redemption to His people (v.8), first in the form of prophets like Moses, judges, and kings. Later on, God would send His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. “He (the Lord) has sent redemption to His people” are the words of the Communion Hymn at the Nativity. Ironically, with the exception of the Paschal Communion hymn, all of the hymns that direct us to the New Covenant of the Body and Blood of Christ are actually quoted from the Old Testament.
“Holy and terrible is His name!” (v.9) shows a contrast that needs some explanation. The name of God is terrible, frightful, and fearful to the enemies of God. It is awesome to the followers of God. It should strike awe in us, more than trepidation and fear. The name of God is holy, and those who call on the name of God should be striving for a sense of holiness, to be set apart for the Lord.
Those who fear the Lord, we are told, have wisdom. The people who practice fear of the Lord, according to the Psalm, have a good understanding of Who the Lord is. And if a person has a difficult time understanding the Lord, verse 1 gives us a good place from which to start—to give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart, and to do so in the company of the upright, in the context of a congregation. Why? Because one Christian is no Christian. Christians exist in community, where there are believers who can help, as well as believers who can encourage and help us understand wisdom and the fear/awe of the Lord. Thus Christians belong in churches in order to be supported and encouraging and in order to collaborate with others for the good of those both in and outside of the community.
Fear is overcome with familiarity. We should have awe of the Lord, regardless of how we are familiar with Him. So spend time with the Lord—in prayer, in scripture and in worship, so that fear can give place to awe, and in awe we can find joy.
Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who have pleasure in them. Full of honor and majesty is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. He has caused His wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear Him; He is ever mindful of His covenant. He has shown His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy, they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to His people; He has commanded His covenant forever. Holy and terrible is His name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who practice it. His praise endures forever! Psalm 111
The smartest thing a person can do on any given day is to spend time with God. This is the beginning of wisdom.