There's a special sort of grounding that happens in me when I get out in nature. When I am hiking up a trail, admiring a flower, soaking in wondrous sunshine, dipping my feet in the ocean, or gazing at the stars, I feel like one small part of a story much bigger than me. I sense the connection of the pieces of the ecosystem, and it brings a calming force to my hurried soul.
In short, I find perspective.
In nature, both the significance at each tiny piece of a system and the insignificance of our small selves in the midst of grandeur become simultaneously clear.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" - Psalm 111:10
We often think of the word fear as synonymous with the word terror. Which makes verses like this feel prickly when we come across them in the Scriptures. Sure, God is powerful, but are we really supposed to be terrified of the Lord? Doesn't that contradict the passages about God's love and mercy and grace?
In Hebrew, the mowra' means fear and terror, but that is not the word used in Psalm 111:10. The word used here is yirah, which besides fear, can be translated as awe.
Some scholars have made an interesting connection between yirah and ra'ah. Though they don't look very similar in their english characters, in Hebrew characters they are almost identical, with the first having the apostrophe like symbol for the y sound at the beginning of it. The largest and most obvious of the characters are the same.
Ra'ah means to see or perceive.
Before asking what it means to fear the Lord, perhaps we should ask what we see. When we look at this world, what do we see? When we look at the Scriptures, what do we see?
"Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
and his righteousness endures forever." - Psalm 111:2-3
"Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?" - Job 38:4-7
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. - Psalm 139:13-14
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?" - Matthew 6:26-27
Perhaps fear of the Lord is what happens when we look around and see things as they actually are: the wonder of an amazing creation and the Creator who crafted it, the smallness of my own problems in perspective, and yet the promise that the great God of this world cares about even me.
This post is part of my Psalms Journey series.
#PsalmsJourney is a series reflecting on the Psalms one at a time, in order. Learn more about it on my Psalms Journey page. If you'd like to join me, put a link to your own post in the comments.