The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practise it have a good understanding. His praise endures for ever. (NRSV)
That word “fear” can mean two very different things. It can mean we shrink in terror at a harmful threat to our lives. Or at least in parts of the Bible it can mean reverence and respect. The same Bible which urges us not to fear because God is with us, also urges us to fear him if we are to live wisely and well.
C.S. Lewis seemed to strike the right balance in his Narnia books. Aslan, the divine figure, is a loving and benevolent lion. But he is not a tame lion. He is not to be taken for granted. Our own conception of our God can lead to right and wrong fear.
Some may see him as a tyrant just itching to hurl thunderbolts at us, looking at us with pursed lips of displeasure. He hates sin and we are sinners. So, we run and hide from him. Others see him as a kindly old grandfather figure, forever indulgent towards us. So, we treat him rather carelessly as someone who is not too bothered about our waywardness.
The fear that is the beginning of wisdom does not go to those extremes. God is a holy God who is utterly different to us. God is a gracious God who has made access to his presence possible by inviting Jesus to take away the stain of our offences against him.
Jesus makes it possible for us to fear God without being afraid of him.