Thoughts on the Fear of the Lord as the Beginning of Knowledge

A popular verse in the Old Testament is Proverbs 1:7: “The fear of the Lord the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The word “fear” in this instance is probably not what you’re thinking of when you think of the word today. Unlike a fear of heights or public speaking, the “fear of the Lord” is, in the words of Tim Keller, “sustaining a joyful, astonished awe, and wonder before Him.” Now taking what we know about ‘fearing’ the Lord, you might wonder how this relates to the beginning of knowledge. Certainly a fear of the Lord is helpful, in that it enables a person to live correctly. A correct knowledge of God should result in correct actions in response to this knowledge of God. Fools despise God’s decrees and thus fail to align their life correctly to truth. That being said, I would like to look at this passage from another angle and deal with the word, “Beginning.”

How is it that sustaining a joyful, astonished awe and wonder before God is the foundation of knowledge? Perhaps one way this plays out, is in regard to the philosophical implications of atheism—a system which also has the misfortune of adopting relativism as its brother. Relativism maintains the idea that all truth is relative. What one person claims to be true can be rejected by another, since they are equal beings. Truth is not absolute because it is relative. On atheism a person has no choice but to also adopt relativism; thus all claims about what ought to be, particularly in regard morality, is simply a matter of opinion. If there is no greater authority outside of humanity itself, then there can be no obligations that transcend human opinion. On atheism I may be able to say that something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’—but that is simply relative to my opinion, since there is no ultimate authority (God) on which to ground moral obligations. Therefore, on atheism a person can do something, but there is no reason why we ought to do anything at all. An atheist can object and claim that there is such thing as objective morals, but yet again, that would simply be his word against mine.

We have to say that true knowledge of how we ought to live and what we ought to do is ontologically grounded in God. According to Proverbs, fools despise this wisdom and instruction, and it is also fools who say “there is no God.”[1] Without God we’re left in the dark about the true nature of humanity, the objectivity of moral principles, and the purpose of life. Without the fear of God we’re free to pretend we have the answers to ultimate questions—but we’re really only taking a shot at it. Therefore it is vital, in order for us to have a true knowledge of life, we must have a fear of the true God.

[1] Psa 14:1

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