What does it mean to ‘fear the Lord’?
A Christian Science perspective: An explanation of the relationship between ‘fear’ and ‘worship.’
Reading the Bible in my childhood, I wondered what the phrase “fear the Lord” meant (see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:13). Does it mean that we should be afraid of God? The Bible also says that “perfect love casteth out fear” (I John 4:18), so what were the references to fearing God about? When I asked my Christian Science Sunday School teachers for guidance, they explained that “fear” was a form of worship. While the modern-day understanding of “fear” is “to be afraid,” the Bible uses an early version of the term meaning “awe” or “reverence,” especially toward God.
I was grateful for this explanation. But having “fear” and “worship” explained to me – while helpful – didn’t mean I fully grasped the concept. I had to learn it for myself.
Fast-forward some years later as I continued my study of the Bible: I learned to pray – to worship, if you will – by earnestly considering the teachings of Christ Jesus and striving to live what he taught. Much of what he taught included worshiping God in spirit and deed – not bowing down to an idol, or going through a set of rituals or a thoughtless recitation of words. He showed that God is Spirit and Love, that we are all God’s children, and that we should love both God and others equally. It was through this understanding and practice of loving that I was able not only to learn what it meant to “fear the Lord” but to find healing through this understanding.
At the time, I was worried about traveling for a business trip by myself while I was several months pregnant. On the lengthy train ride, I took time to calm my fear, and I thought back to those Bible passages and teachings. I deeply considered them and prayerfully came to what seemed like a real revelation: To fear is to believe that something has power over you. My study of Christ Jesus’ teachings, and of Christian Science, had shown me that the real and true power over us is actually divine Love, which is entirely good, and does not bring us harm. So, I could certainly fear – that is, be in awe of – God, and feel safe.
Writing about the more commonly understood sense of fear, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, writes, “A man’s fear, unconquered, conquers him, in whatever direction” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1901,” p. 13). So we would do well to worship divine Love, and understand Love to be the true power over us, in order to bring good more clearly into our experience.
I was empowered by these ideas and arrived safely at my destination.
It wasn’t until after several hours at my office, as I sat quietly at my desk, that my nose began to bleed. It came on suddenly – with no possible provocation. As it continued and showed no signs of stopping, I became very afraid. But as soon as I recognized my fear, I quickly remembered my prayer on the commute: Fear, in its higher sense, is a form of worship. I certainly didn’t want to worship a nose bleed, and I asked myself, “Why am I worshiping this? I don’t want this any more in my experience, and fearing it only makes it seem more real and powerful to me.” That very instant, the bleeding completely stopped and never returned – not for the rest of the trip, the healthy pregnancy, or the years since then.
This direction from Philippians seemed to sum up my experience well: “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3). I had placed my confidence in Spirit, God, and chose to be in awe of divine Love, instead of fearing the fleshly condition. Not only had I gained what it meant to “fear the Lord” but I had applied what I had learned to my experience – with healing results.