1 Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.
The phrase “those who fear the Lord” has as its parallel “those who delight in his commandments.” This is not the fear that hides in basements before a storm or walks children to school and home again. This is not the fear of soldiers before battle or children who hear their parents shouting in the night. Those who “fear the Lord” are those who delight in God’s commandments, those who show honor and respect to God’s gracious ordering of life. Yes, there is an element of honest concern for the consequences of disobedience, but this is not fear as we know it. It is the “fear” we have of parents who will “kill us” if we cut school or used drugs – fear not born of their cruelty, but of their love. It is the “fear” of disappointing or betraying them.
We have much we fear. We fear for our future. We fear losing our jobs. We fear for our health. We fear failure. We fear for shame should our secrets come to light. We can fear success, too, sometimes – especially those who have spent little time in the realm of success. And in the same way fear healthy relationships, settling instead for what is familiar. We fear leaving the safety of the known for the unknown. And then there are the fears that have gotten out of control and manifest themselves in conditions we call disorders.
We have much we fear. But the fear of the Lord is different. It is that fundamental respect for and attention to the foundational elements of life: care for your neighbor, kindness, charity, justice, the needs of the poor. Such a fear is not a manifestation of anxiety and uncertainty; it is a groundedness in ultimate reality. It is certainty and confidence, and assurance of the path of life.
Those who “fear the Lord” are not timid, but live in the world with confidence and courage. “They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.” They lend generously and “conduct their affairs with justice.” “They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor.”
This is not a fear that limits, but a respect and trust that empowers. It is a confident recognition of life’s true path. We are not groping in the dark, uncertain of what to do. The will of God is set before us: and in that will we find our life.