As we have seen in our previous discussions, the paradox of the gift of the fear of the Lord is that it is a fear that does not call us to cringe like slaves, but to rejoice in reverence of our Father as his children.
Jesus feared God, but never cringed before him. Instead, he worshipped and adored him so much that he willingly laid down his life in obedient love toward him for our sakes. And he did so, not in some act of despair, but because he trusted that God would bring abundant life and gladness out of it.
As Hebrews 12:2 says, it was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross, despising its shame. Jesus did not lay down his life because he saw himself as a worthless slave, but because he knew that he was God’s beloved Son.
We who have received his Divine life in baptism and confirmation are to walk in that same spirit of filial, not servile, fear and to likewise offer ourselves in love and not in self-contempt. This is why Paul tells us: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:14-15).
It is also why he speaks of creation waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
The gift of the fear of the Lord, like all the sanctifying gifts, is given, then, to make us more like Jesus Christ the Son of God, not like Jesus Christ the slave. And because it makes us like him, it conforms us to his image and likeness and makes even our sufferings like his, so that we can obtain a resurrection like his. That’s why the Catholic Tradition, following St. Paul above, says that the fear of the Lord confirms the virtue of hope.
Interestingly, Paul connects hope repeatedly with suffering. “Suffering,” he says, “produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
This connection of suffering with hope is at the heart of the Christian vision of the world and of the human person. As Jesus says, if we are to be his disciples, we are to take up our crosses and follow him. To be a Christian, therefore, is to suffer. There is no other way.
But then, to be human is to suffer, too. What Christ brings into the world is not suffering. Sin did that. And then sin complicated that by urging people on to do all sorts of evils in order to avoid suffering or inflict it on others. What Christ brings into the world is redemption and meaning for our sufferings by embracing rather than fleeing suffering. Reject Christ, and you do not escape suffering: You simply lose hope. Suffering after rejecting Christ — which will come in any case — becomes mere meaningless pain.
Christ suffers in hope and calls us to do the same, both for our own salvation and to bear with him the suffering that brings salvation to others. We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).
Next time, we will see how the gift works toward that end.
Mark Shea is a Register blogger and columnist.
The series consists of the Introduction;
Wisdom: Part 1 and Part 2;