Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom.
Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.
What? Why do we need to be afraid of God to be wise? What is fear of the Lord? Does that mean that if we make a foolish decision God will be ready to smite us or to squash us like a bug?
I don’t think so. Fear of the Lord is a reverent awe.
Fear of the Lord means acknowledging that our actions have consequences. It means admitting that there is a just judge ruling over the earth who cares about us. How we live our lives matters to him. It’s thinking long-term instead short-term.
When I lived in Mexico I knew many teen boys with difficulties at home. They were at risk for dropping out of school to join the drug trade. Some cartels have recruiters in the middle schools. For a boy who has never had prestige, economic advantages, or respect, this can be appealing. He could gain money, glory, and power. All of the sudden he feels important. Working for the cartel, he could rise much more quickly than he would following the harder, stay in school and work hard, life.
At one point, we were mildly threatened by some drug dealers in our neighborhood. It was very scary at the time. As I prayed about that experience and watched God move on our behalf, I distinctly felt the truth that the drug dealers themselves were in far more danger from their line of work than I would ever be from them. That happened just three years ago, but all of those guys have been killed since then. With no fear of God in their lives, their actions didn’t matter. Live hard, die young. Who cares?
But if I fear a real, just judge, that’s incentive to weigh my choices, to think long-term. Wise choices are long-term choices. Wise choices think past today and ask God for his input, because he cares and wants the best for us. That’s fear of the Lord.