Tertullian: What is the fear of God? How do I know the fear of the Lord?

They say that God is not to be feared; therefore all things are in their view free and unchecked. Where, however is God not feared, except where He is not? Where God is not, there truth also is not. Where there is no truth, then, naturally enough, there is also such a discipline as theirs. But where God is, there exists “the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7) Where the fear of God is, there is seriousness, an honorable and yet thoughtful diligence, as well as an anxious carefulness and a well-considered admission (to the sacred ministry) and a safely-guarded communion, and promotion after good service, and a scrupulous submission (to authority), and a devout attendance, and a modest gait, and a united church, and God in all things.

(Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 43)

 

I’ve struggled for quite some time with the explanation I often hear evangelical-types give about the phrase “the fear of the Lord.” “Of course,” we are told, “we do not really fear God, we just have a reverence, or respect for God.” Charmed, I am sure. I always got the feeling that whatever “fear of God” meant, I wasn’t being given a straight answer.

We are proficient at “interpreting” Scripture when it suits us. Rather, when Scripture is against us. Don’t feel like supporting your needy parents? Just say your goods are devoted to the Lord! Who can argue with that? It is not a new problem.

What Tertullian says about the fear of God certainly rings authentic to me. How do I know if a place, a people, is filled with the fear of God?

Is there seriousness?

Is there honorable, thoughtful diligence?

Is there safely guarded communion?

Is there submission?

Devout attention?

Modesty?

Unity?

How would these questions be answered at churches across the land? I fear to even contemplate. What if the answer to these questions is “no”? Then God is not there. Truth is not there.

No fear, no God.

Thank you for good medicine father Tertullian. O for more doctors so careful in their cures.

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