Moses’s last exhortations to the Israelites include this one: Deuteronomy 10: 20-22 The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and Him shall you serve; hold fast to Him and swear by His Name. He is your glory, He, your God, Who has done for you those great and terrible things which your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy strong, and now the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky.
People often ask, ‘What is fear of the LORD?’ The seventy-two books of the bible include the phrase ‘Fear of the LORD’ 186 times. You will see this phrase over and over again in nearly every book so obviously it is of prime importance. Essentially, ‘fear of the LORD,’ which is also a gift of the Holy Spirit is to fear offending God in any way. The website Catholic Straight Answers provides some good insights into the meaning of the fear of the LORD.
This gift of the fear of the LORD enables a person “to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.” Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the supreme being. Here, a person realizes his “creatureliness” and dependency upon God, has a true “poverty of spirit,” and never would want to be separated from God, who is love. As such, this gift arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.
This gift of fear of the Lord is sometimes misunderstood because of the word “fear.” “Fear of the Lord” is not a servile fear whereby a person serves God simply because he fears punishment, whether some sort of temporal punishment in this life or the eternal punishment of hell. A genuine relationship with God is based on love, not fear. Therefore, this “fear of the Lord” is a filial or reverential fear that moves a person to do God’s will and avoid sin because of love for God, who is all good and deserving of all of our love. In a similar way, a child should not be motivated to obey a parent simply because of fear of punishment, but because of love and respect; a person who loves someone does not want to disappoint or to break the other person’s heart. One should fear hurting a loved one and violating that person’s trust more than one should fear punishment. Nevertheless, one should have a healthy sense of fear for the punishment due to sin, including the fires of hell, even though this should not be the motivating factor for loving God.
Therefore, this gift motivates the person in three ways: first, to have a vivid sense of God’s infinite greatness; second, to have a real sorrow for sin, even venial sins, and to do penance to atone for sins committed; and third, to be vigilant to avoid the near occasions of sin, to struggle against personal weakness and fight temptation.
Psalm 111: 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it. His praise endures forever.