“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear
the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12)
The word translated “fear" in many versions of the Bible comes from the Hebrew word yirah (יִרְאָה), which has a wide range of meaning in the Scriptures. Sometimes it refers to the fear we feel in anticipation of some danger or pain, but it can also can mean “awe” or “reverence” inclusive of the idea of wonder, amazement, mystery, astonishment, gratitude, admiration, and worship (like the feeling you get when gazing from the edge of the Grand Canyon). Thus at times yirah ought to be translated as “awe" - "The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10)
Some Hebrew Biblical scholars link the word yirah (יִרְאָה) with the word for seeing (רָאָה). Exod. 3:2-5 Moses “turned aside” to see the wonder and awe of the burning bush. When he saw the bush and heard the Voice he trembled with awe and the inner awareness of the sanctity of the Lord and His Calling. Such awe is not the goal of wisdom (like some state of nirvana), but rather its means. We start with awe and that leads us to wisdom - (Heschel). This wisdom ultimately is revealed in the love of God as demonstrated in the sacrificial death of His Son and his resurrection for our justification.
According to Jewish tradition, there are three “levels” or types of yirah:
- The tormenting fear of unpleasant consequences or punishment (i.e., yirat ha’onesh: יִרְאַת הָענֶשׁ) We anticipate pain of some kind and want to run from it. Note that such fear can also come from what you subjectively believe others might think of you. People will often do things (or not do them) in order to buy acceptance within a group (or to avoid rejection). Social rules are adhered to in order to avoid being alienated or rejected. One application of this type of fear is as Plato said in his writing "Republic", that people are "too weak to do injustice with impunity". A provoking question that could help us understand if you act or do not act under this type of fear is - would you act differently if you were able to become invisible? Would the "freedom to do whatever you like with impunity" lead you to consider doing things you otherwise wouldn't do?
- The type of fear concerns anxiety over breaking God’s laws (sometimes called yirat ha-malkhut: יִרְאַת הַמַּלְכוּת). This kind of fear drives people to do good deeds because they fear God will punish them in this life (or in the world to come). Even though the fear of God's punishment may deter us from sin and wrong doing in the short run, by itself it is deficient karma spiritual life, since it is based on an deficient idea about God. This is the foundational concept of (the cycle of moral cause and effect). This kind of fear is founded on self-preservation, though in some cases the heart's motivation may be mixed with a genuine desire to honor God or to avoid God's righteous wrath for sin (Exod. 1:12, Lev. 19:14; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5).
- The third (and highest) kind of fear is a profound reverence for God that comes from rightly seeing. This level discerns the Presence of God in every detail of our life and is sometimes called yirat ha-rommemnut (יִרְאַת הָרוֹמְמוּת), or the "Awe of the Exalted." Through it we behold God's glory and majesty in all things. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) are linked and united. Thus "the pure in heart shall see God". We are elevated to the high road of reverent discernment, sacred affection, and genuine communion with God's Holy Spirit. This love for divine good creates a spiritual distaste toward evil, and thus, the hatred of evil to fear God
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well- balanced mind and discipline and self- control." - 2 Timothy 1:7amp