Did you know that “Yirah”, a Hebrew word that is usually translated “fear”, is considered to be “the principal religious Biblical virtue, according to Abraham Heschel, a leading Jewish theologian of the 20th century? He suggested in his writings that this word had two meanings: fear and awe. “Fear is the anticipation and expectation of evil or pain, as contrasted with hope which is the anticipation of good. Awe, on the other hand, is the sense of wonder and humility inspired by the sublime or felt in the presence of mystery. Awe, unlike fear, does not make us shrink from the awe-inspiring object, but on the contrary, draws us near to it. This is why awe is compatible with both love and joy.”* Explanations like this can help us understand why the Bible often uses this concept to describe people who willingly make choices to do what is right and good without compromise.
Long before the first books of the Bible were written down by Moses, the people of God understood that He was not only worthy of reverence, devotion, and honor, but that his holiness and justice and mysterious ways were to be respected, even to the point of the kind of fear and dread that made them committed to obedience. Think about many of the choices that Abraham made long before God asked Him to give up his son, Isaac. Consider what Joseph’s attitude had been throughout the years until he was finally reunited with his brothers. Isn’t it interesting that we are also given an example of some women who were wonderfully blessed because they fully worshipped their amazing God?
“The way to faith leads through acts of wonder and radical amazement. Awe precedes faith; it is the root of faith. We must grow in awe in order to reach faith. We are seriously impoverished in our longings, and because of this our capacity for awe and wonder is impaired. We live in a time when faith is thin, because our aching for what is above and beyond us has been anaesthetized and our capacity for wonder reduced to clever tricks.”* Would you agree?
*Passion for Pilgrimage, Abraham Heschel, pp. 76-77, 145-146