From “The Fear of the Lord,” Deliverance to the Captives (1958)

When the right fear of the Lord takes possession of our hearts, we are both lost in amazement and struck by awe, even terror. For we discover that God, since the beginning of time, has not hated or threatened you and me, but has loved and chosen us, has made a covenant with us, has been our helper long before we knew it and will continue this relationship. The fear of the Lord springs from the discovery that the high and eternal God gave his beloved son for us, for you and me, taking upon himself our sin and our misery; he made his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to be our brother, for whose sake we may call God our Father and ourselves is children.

The fear of the Lord springs from the discovery that I did not merit this gift, that it has been given to me by the pure and free goodness of God, in spite of all I deserved. The fear of the Lord springs from the discovery that this is the true relationship between God and me — that I had totally ignored it — that I had perhaps heard it once from afar, only to forget it again and to live as if it were not true and none of my concern. The fear of the Lord springs from the discovery that it might be high time to awake from sleep, to arise and live as the men we really are, God’s chosen and elect people, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, set free by him from our sin and our misery. The fear of the Lord springs from the discovery that God calls us unto himself and that his calling urges us to wake up, to arise, and to begin to live as his children. This fear of the Lord is very real, it is awe, even terror, yet is poles apart from dumb anxiety. For it is inspired with secret jubilation and is born of gratitude.

This fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the beginning with which we are all called to begin. Eah one of us, even the most evil or the most foolish person may simply begin here, today, tomorrow, every day, and may become versed in the knowledge of living.

Karl Barth (1886-1968) was a Swiss Reformed theologian, the most influential leader of the Neo-Orthodoxy movement in twentieth century Protestantism. He is most famous for his emphasis on the grace of God, which he connected with a strong doctrine of election and divine revelation. He preached the sermon “The Beginning of Wisdom” to the prisoners at the city jail in Basel, Switzerland on July 20, 1958. It was published in 1961 in a translated collection of his prison sermons.