The happiness of God-fearers

Psalm 112: 1 - 9*

Praise the Lord! Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.

Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever.
They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.
They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.
Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

In "Sing a New Song: The Psalms in the Sunday Lectionary," by Irene Nowell, OSB, Ph.D., the author writes:

Fear of the Lord is the loving awe of the great and compassionate God which is expressed in obedience. Fear of the Lord is the recognition that God is in control of the world and that our delight is to live by the divine will. The assertion of the psalm is that the people who live this way are truly happy.

This is a very positive explanation of what fear of the Lord is. I like it a lot better than thinking that God is going to strike us all with lightning bolts every time we mess up, don't you? How can the "fear of the Lord" that is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit be a good thing? It has to do with archaic translations. When the "fear of the Lord" in relation to the gifts of the Holy Spirit is mentioned, the Hebrew word is yirah. Yirah actually relates to piety and reverence or awe rather than terror. In the Old Testament, when real fear in the modern sense is meant, the Hebrew word used is pachad.**

Nowell continues:

The happiness of the God-fearers is revealed both in good times and bad times. They receive blessing of wisdom: prosperity, good children, everlasting remembrance. Even in bad times they are not shaken. They shine through the darkness; they do not fear slander and gossip. They trust that they will eventually be victorious over any enemy. Fear of the Lord and obedience to the Law has made them truly images of God. As God is gracious, merciful and just, so are they. As God is generous, so are they. Their generosity is rewarded with lasting prosperity and fame. Even in a society in which there is no real belief in life after death, they live on in memory.

This is a good explanation of what it means to be someone who fears the Lord. Of course, it is not all inclusive. There are people who fear the Lord whose children make poor choices, who are in poverty, or who struggle with fear and doubt in bad times. This Psalm is an overall explanation of the traits of a godly person. And, as one grows in the faith these traits may become more prominent. After all, there are areas in which we all struggle. Plus, there may be times when the Spirit of God gives us more strength in certain areas to get us through the task at hand. At other times, we may not receive as much strength because the Lord may be checking to see if we'll rely on him based on past experience. This has been my experience on the Christian journey and the experience of others whom I have known or read about along the way.

Reading this Psalm and the passage in Nowell's book, gave me some encouragement in one area in which I struggle. The Psalm says "they are not afraid of evil tidings." Nowell explains it like this: "they do not fear slander and gossip."

Fearing slander and gossip has been a struggle for me ever since I can remember. I don't want people to talk about me. In fact, I would rather sink into the background and go unnoticed. In the past this has played out in being a people pleaser, having a lack of courage to speak out, and fear of people.

We've all experienced it. You walk into a room full of people and the conversation immediately stops. You know they're talking about you. Understandably, this can cause paranoia. Wouldn't you just rather stay at home if people are going to gossip about you?

Eventually, to overcome this, you have to get to the point where it doesn't really matter what people say. If your heart is right with God and you are doing what God wants, what other people say doesn't matter because, as the Psalm says, you'll have victory in the end. This is a very difficult point to reach because gossip can cause great harm to its subject and to the cause of Christ, especially when other Christians are doing the gossiping. There are no trite solutions here.

In my own life to get to and stay at this point, I have to pray and ask God's help. I know that it is easy to slip back into that people pleasing, weak-spined, paranoid lifestyle. Despite what people say, I have to do what God wants me to do even though it's hard for me sometimes. I have no doubt that in the end this will build greater character within me and thus fulfill what Psalm 112 is addressing in my life. Happiness comes in being true to the Lord and to myself as well.

"Know thyself," an ancient saying sometimes ascribed to Socrates, is good advice, but so is "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." There has to be a balance between the two. Being knowledgeable about yourself is helpful in the spiritual walk so that you know where your weak points lie. Fearing the Lord gives you the wisdom to recognize those points, ask for help and provides the ability to do what God requires.

How does this Psalm help you today?

*To read this Psalm in NIV, click on the hyperlink
**Thank you to my husband Mike for his insight on this matter.