Fear of the Lord Gives Us the Desire Not to Offend God
COMMENTARY: The conclusion of a Register series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As we saw last time, fear of the Lord is ordered toward Christian hope, and hope is linked with suffering as Christ the Son, not Christ the slave, suffered. “We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering 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 5:2-5).
This sounds counterintuitive, since our whole civilization is ordered toward not suffering, and it regards suffering as proof that God either does not exist, does not care or actually is out to get us. So the Lord’s counsel to take up our cross and follow him is often downplayed in favor of hope in things like the gospel of health and wealth or simply the gospel of secular hedonism.
In short, some people imagine that by escaping Christianity they will escape suffering. But, of course, this is simply not reality. The fact is: You will suffer whether you are Christian or not, and the question is never whether you will suffer, but how. Lose Christ, and you lose — not suffering, but meaning.
Christ calls us to join our sufferings with his, just as he joins us in our suffering by the cross. One of our most fundamental choices in life is: “Will we agree to take up our cross and follow him? Or will we seek some way to sinfully avoid obeying him and living for self?”
It is to this instinct to flee into sin and selfishness that the fear of the Lord (coupled with fortitude) speaks, saying, “You are a child of God. Act like it.” It calls us to cowboy up, face down our desire to do the cowardly and expedient thing and encourages us to soldier on, following Christ, even when people call you a pro-life moron or a cracker worshipper or a milquetoast who forgives instead of pounding your enemies like a real man.
As we make that fundamental choice to obey Christ, we discover that our hope lies not in the things of this world (money, pleasure, power and honor) but in the delight of our Father and in his delight in us. We find that our sufferings not only lead to hope for us, but for others, since we bear them with Christ and “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
The virtue of hope has two enemies: despair and presumption. Fear of the Lord opposes both of these sins. It opposes despair by paradoxically reminding us that the sin of despair is actually a form of arrogant pride that says, “I am so super-special, so different from the common herd of mankind, that even God can’t forgive me.”
Fear of the Lord says to such despair, “Stop being ridiculous. Make your act of contrition, accept the mercy like the rest of ordinary humanity and get on with life. There’s hope for you like there is for everybody else.”
Likewise, to the sin of presumption, the fear of the Lord says, “Do not presume upon the grace of God by sinning and telling yourself you can get away with it. He is your Father who loves you. Do not treat him with such contempt.”
In short, fear of the Lord gives us the desire not to offend God (as you desire not to hurt anyone you love).
But most of all, it gives us the trust that he will bestow the grace necessary to keep us from doing so and to instead live in obedient love. It is that trust that gives us hope, and hope does not disappoint.
Mark Shea is a Register blogger and columnist.
The series consists of the Introduction;
Wisdom: Part 1 and Part 2;