The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. (Psalm 111:10)
Why is fearing the Lord the beginning of wisdom?
- Wisdom is about a right understanding and a right application of the way things really are. The fundamental fact about the way things really are is that God exists and is engaged with the creation. Mark Roth says it this way: The fear of the Lord is to be God-conscious.
- Living in the shadow of the Almighty–understanding what pleases, and what displeases, God–is clearly the most important thing to be wise about.
- God is eternal, and God’s praise “endures forever.” It is only the beginning of wisdom to fear God–we have all eternity to deepen and ripen our wisdom (or to deepen and exacerbate our foolishness).
- To understand who God is, and who we are, is to understand that we are fundamentally flawed and broken; without this understanding, we will remain forever foolish. “The greatest ascetics, those who mortified themselves and who for a period of forty or fifty years daily and nightly lived a life of mortification until death, were filled with the fear of God and these, the most sinless among mortals, cried out in their hour of death: ‘O God, have mercy on me a sinner!'”–Bishop Nicholai of Zicha and Orchid.
- Fearing God, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is only a first step towards understanding “the knowledge of Divine things.” On the one hand, we fear God as a servant fears a master, fearing God’s punishment; on the other hand, we fear God as a child fears a parent; “in order to make a beginning, man must first of all fear God and submit himself to Him: for the result will be that in all things he will be ruled by God.”
I think it is useful to state that this verse is, in some sense, not saying that fearing God is the only starting point on a path to wisdom; other starting points might include a love for God, faith or trust in God, a deep curiosity about what wisdom is, etc. Still, this mode of considering God–God is great, and we are not–is to begin to effect our “chief end:” to glorify and enjoy God for ever.