“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Proverbs 1:7
In the game of Trouble, you need a dice roll of one or a six for your pawn to get on the board. That’s similar to what this proverb tells us about the fear of the Lord. In Trouble, a one or six gets you on the board. Until that point, you may learn quite a bit about how the game works. You may roll a lot of times. But you’re not making any real progress in the game. Similarly, until you grasp the fear of the Lord – the centrality of God in this universe – you are only watching the game.
Proverbs spends a good deal of time wrestling with exactly what is wisdom? It’s one thing to call someone wise, or recognize when someone is behaving wisely, but how do you define what wisdom is? The Bible lays out its own parameters which we must observe if we want to make any progress down its path. Biblical wisdom begins, and then grows out of a fear of the Lord.
It’s not as if you ever outgrow the fear of the Lord, and then move on to more advanced courses. It’s that you must start by realizing that fearing God is more important than anything else you could do or become. Then you begin orienting the rest of your life’s activities and decisions towards that central object. That’s how you grow in wisdom.
The search for wisdom is the search for how to live your best life. Any such search, and any such discussion must begin by clearly defining the end goal, or your ultimate purpose. What’s your goal? Is it a happy, tranquil family life? Is it to make as much money as you can? To achieve something that lasts as long as possible? To do as much good as you can for others? And what does it mean to do good?
Fear of the Lord means starting everything with God. It means recognizing God is the central reality in the universe, not me, not even the universe in its past, present, or future form. When I understand that, it changes the type of questions I begin asking. Who is this God? What does He want or expect from me? What are His purposes? The fear of the Lord starts us on the real path of knowledge. Not because there is nothing to learn after that, but because it gives us the right questions to ask.
The Bible tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge because it is trying to communicate something to us about the deepest reality of knowledge. You can acquire a vast amount of highly specialized, complex knowledge about the body in medical school, or about math and physics as an engineer. It’s not as if this knowledge is untrue or has to be unlearned. But until you are operating out of the guiding principle of a fear of the Lord, you lack the fullest appreciation of what this knowledge is for. What are you to do with this knowledge? Why does the body work the way it does? Why do these formulas work in math and physics?
The fear of the Lord provides an orientation for us to understand the largest purpose behind everything else we learn. It provides us with someone we praise and worship because of the things we see and discover. All other pathways of growing in knowledge become avenues through which we know Him better. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge because it’s also the middle and the end.