Fear and Love

By Sarah Cornwell

Reading from Psalm 34

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the humble hear and rejoice.

3 Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
let us exalt his Name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me out of all my terror.

5 Look upon him and be radiant,
and let not your faces be ashamed.

6 I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me
and saved me from all my troubles.

7 The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him,
and he will deliver them.

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him!

9 Fear the Lord, you that are his saints,
for those who fear him lack nothing.

10 The young lions lack and suffer hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.

11 Come, children, and listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

12 Who among you loves life
and desires long life to enjoy prosperity?

13 Keep your tongue from evil-speaking
and your lips from lying words.

14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.

16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them
and delivers them from all their troubles.

18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.

19 Many are the troubles of the righteous,
but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.

20 He will keep safe all his bones;
not one of them shall be broken.

21 Evil shall slay the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.

22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants,
and none will be punished who trust in him.


Many churches use Matthew 19:14 in children’s programs: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” It is a welcoming message to families with young (and perhaps just a little unruly) children. We want our children to draw near to the Lord, to be comforted, to be loved, to feel like equally valued members of the body. This is a very good thing. Yet verse 11 of Psalm 34 seems to contradict this: “Come, children, and listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” Hang on a minute. Do we not avoid and hate that which we fear? Is fear really what we want to teach our children?

This summer, my husband began to teach our oldest children how to swim. It’s a delicate balance of wanting them to love the water, to want to be in it, but also to fear it; after all, it is a powerful and mighty thing. Love it, but be in awe of it, which is itself a mixture of fear and wonder. If it seems reasonable to teach our children to approach water this way, it stands to reason that we should also teach our children to stand in awe of the Lord. After all, it is he who hovered over the water in the very beginning, who drove it back to create the dry land, who raised it to flood the earth, saving Noah and the beasts, who parted it to deliver the Israelites, who invites us into our salvation through baptism in it, and who promises to cause a living wellspring of it to burst forth within us. All of this the Lord does through his love. Let us teach our children: God is no trifling matter; it is fearful and wonderful to know him.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have five children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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