July 15, 2010
by Patrick Lafferty
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.
A right fear of the Lord has everything to do with a life of true wisdom, which last Sunday’s prologue to the Proverbs illustrated. We argued that without a profound sense of awe for the Lord you lack both a proper or a sufficient motivation to heed and persevere in the instruction of the Proverbs.
There’s something else you lack without a right fear of the Lord: you can’t be logically consistent in whatever ultimate concerns you have for this world.
Now, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t believe one must have a belief in God in order to be moral and virtuous. Instead, he argues those without religious faith are just as capable of admirable displays of virtue as anyone claiming said faith.
Doug Wilson, Hitchens’ friendly adversary in the touring debate over the goodness of Christianity, grants Hitchens’ point: Christians do not corner the market on virtue. But while you can ascribe nobility to an unbeliever’s irreligious virtue, you cannot ascribe logical consistency to such. Even atheists must borrow from theistic categories to ground their moral convictions and actions. Or they must contrive their own standards, which ultimately fail on the basis of arbitrariness. Without the fear of the Lord, an individual’s selfless concerns will always be begging for an ultimate rationale which their agnosticism or atheism can’t deliver.
You want to save the planet from ecological disaster? Why? Because you want to preserve the planet’s resources for future generations. But why should they matter? Or maybe you want to intervene for the sake of planet itself. It deserves respect, you say. But on what basis? Because it provides us so much? Why should reciprocity become a controlling principle?
Maybe you want to end the sex-slave trade in India? Why? Because humans deserve to be free? On what basis? Who or what determines that humans have intrinsic dignity worthy of defense? Without a transcendent category that grounds such dignity, the conviction that drives you to free those born into brothels, while ostensibly noble, is still artificial.
You want to end poverty in W. Dallas? Eradicate corruption at City Hall? Challenge greed among the moneyed? Fine, but why are poverty, corruption, and greed necessarily unacceptable?
Even atheist Antonia Senior recognizes the intrinsic illogic of a quest for justice that rests on a morally ambiguous framework. If you reject the notion that there is a standard by which to evaluate a culture, then you have no place, for example, to condemn the practice of female circumcision. It’s logically inconsistent to condemn an action while at the same time denying a basis for evaluation. (Hat Tip to Marvin Olasky’s interview with Tim Keller)
Every cause requires a rationale that goes beyond our own interests if they’re to have any validity. As you ground a cause in a firm rationale, you’ll have to appeal to some universal principle to which we are all accountable. The Proverbs argue we are accountable to the Lord, from which we derive our proper fear of Him and the rationale for all our obedience to Him.
The fear of the Lord validates your fight. It provides a consistency of conviction and action to your fight, and therefore keeps you in the fight.
A fear of the Lord also keeps the fight from becoming about you. How many of our most desperate efforts are centered, not on the objects of our cause, but on defending or proving ourselves? The Gospel refines our engagement with causes in a profound way: if we think we must ingratiate ourselves with God by doing His moral will, we’re tempted to think less of the cause itself and more about whether it will curry God’s favor. If, however, we know nothing we do obtains that favor and everything has already been done by Christ to secure it, then our efforts change. We’re freed, so to speak, to act strenuously in un-conflicted concern for the cause, and in gratitude to the One who made us His own.
In what are you engaged? Nurturing a child? Mediating a conflict? Pursuing justice? Do you see how the fear of the Lord is crucial to the consistency of your cause? The Cross of Jesus is the clearest reason for why we fear the Lord. It is the most potent truth to cultivate that fear. May He foster consistency in you as you meditate upon His Cross.
 It’s a fear of the Lord that should also compel us to pray for Mr Hitchens, who was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. His inconsistency and antagonism, notwithstanding, it’s only consistent with a respect for what the Lord has done for us in Christ to love those at odds with us. (cf. Proverbs 25:21,22, Mt 5:44)