I went through an odd music phase in high school where I really began to enjoy oldies music. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that my waterproof shower radio only picked up one station and it happened to be the local oldies broadcast. One song that often played was Everybody Plays the Fool by the Main Ingredient. What the title suggests is true, there are no exceptions, we all play the fool sometimes. But, nobody really desires to be the fool.
Instead, we all want to be wise. After all, Proverbs reminds us that wisdom is more valuable than silver or gold (Prov. 3:14). Those who find wisdom are considered blessed (Prov. 3:13). The wise “will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Prov. 3:4). Needless to say, wisdom is to be valued and sought after with perseverance. If we are to pursue wisdom–true wisdom, the type of wisdom that is priceless–we must understand that wisdom begins with fearing God. Solomon, the wise king of Israel, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). If we desire to be wise, we must first consider what it means to fear God.
What Does it Mean to Fear God?
In C. S. Lewis’s beloved novel The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe four children stumble into the fantastical world of Narnia. They find themselves at Mr. and Mrs. Beavers home being instructed about the Christ-figure Aslan. When the children discover that Aslan is a lion, they naturally have some questions about whether it is safe to meet him. Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? … Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
In Narnia, Aslan reigns as both the sovereign Lord as well as the good and gracious king. He is neither a domesticated house cat nor a violent ruler. Peter, the oldest of the four children, responds appropriately to the unsafe, yet good Aslan. He says, “I’m longing to see him. Even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” Like Peter, a proper understanding of God leads us to a sense of fear and, at the same time, a longing to know him. In affirming both the complete holiness of God and the goodness of God we can begin to understand what it means for us to fear God.
The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Often when we consider fear we think only of being terrified. However, to fear God is less horror and more reverence. It is something that goes beyond mere respect for God but stops short of sheer terror. Therefore, to fear God is to revere him or to stand in awe of him.
This reverence develops as we properly understand God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. For instance, in Ecclesiastes 3:14 fearing God is directly linked to his sovereign power, “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.” Further, After pointing out God’s transcendence, holiness, and righteousness, Ecclesiastes 5:7 concludes, “God is the one you must fear.” When we understand our state as sinful creatures before a holy God, the proper response is fear, reverence, or awe. How then does a proper fear of God lead us into greater wisdom?
How is Fearing God Connected to Wisdom?
In the Bible, wisdom is a moral category as opposed to an intellectual one. Wisdom is living life God’s way in God’s world for God’s glory. Wisdom grants a person the ability to navigate the tumultuous waters of life in a way that pleases God. The fool, on the other hand, lives as if God does not exist (Psalm 14:1). He is described not as an intellectual dummy, but as the one who disregards his creator.
With this understanding of wisdom, it is easy to see why the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all wisdom. There is no true wisdom apart from a proper attitude and relationship to God. God is the source of true wisdom. Therefore, a deep reverence for God leads us to want to please him in all the various aspects of life including the way we spend our money, how we treat others, the words we use, how we handle lust, our responses to suffering, and a thousand other moments.
There is such things as false wisdom (Isaiah 5:21), earthly wisdom (James 3:15), and worldly thinking that parades itself as wisdom (Colossians 2:23). However, true wisdom–the skill to know God’s agenda and the motivation to live it out–begins only with a proper reverence for God. This is the very foundation in which wisdom is built. In essence, we will never walk in biblical wisdom until we cherish the God of all wisdom.
We all want wisdom, but the path is often painful. Wisdom comes from humbling ourselves before God. To quote C. S. Lewis once more, “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that–you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
Do you revere God? Have you experienced the freedom of humbling yourself before him? If not, begin by looking to the cross of Christ. The wise King, Jesus Christ, died a brutal death to rescue you from the treason of living life like he doesn’t matter. The one who is immeasurably beyond you, humbled himself to rescue you. Turn to him and find mercy, fear him and find wisdom.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Proverbs 9:10 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier Brooks, 1972) 75-76.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1958) 56.