When we were in England, we visited a number of cathedrals and were amazed at the exquisite details in the construction and decoration of each of them.
The exteriors of the cathedrals had a focal point, upward to the sky as if the very building was praising God in prayer and thanksgiving.
Even the walls of the cathedrals evidenced exquisite workmanship and beautiful detail.
The church in Canterbury was established when Saint Augustine was sent as a missionary in 597 A.D. In the town of Canterbury, there has been daily worship of God for over 1,400 years. Just think about that for a moment!
The original cathedral was rebuilt completely by the Normans in 1070 following a major fire. Although there have been many additions to the building over the last nine hundred years, parts of the Quire or Choir, which is the area between the nave and sanctuary in a cathedral, and some of the windows and their stained glass date from the 12th century.
See the Canterbury Cathedral’s website for more detailed information on this glorious church. https://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/heritage/history/cathedral-history-in-a-nutshell/
We came to the entrance of the cathedral property and walked through this gate. At first I thought this was the church … then I realized it was “just” the gate to the property. Even this aspect of the cathedral was designed and constructed with an emphasis on the heavens.
Why go to all this trouble in creating such glorious buildings in which to worship God? Why do all this incredible craftsmanship during a period of time when people were living in far less sturdy structures? Why do this at all?
I suggest that these folks had a right understanding of the “fear of the Lord”.
Scripture has much to say about learning and fearing God. See for example the following passages in the Old Testament:
“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,…”
Deuteronomy 10:12 ESV
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
Psalm 111:10 ESV
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV
So, what does it mean to fear God? One definition of “fear” is, of course, to be afraid, to be in terror when we face God.
The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless and until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.
Dr. R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publishers, © 1998, p. 147
The justified person, the believer in Jesus Christ, is not afraid of God, rather God is his Father and fear is washed away. Paul wrote this to his spiritual son, Timothy:
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV
But we are still admonished to “fear the Lord”, so if we are justified by Christ, what does it mean?
“Fear” when used in this context references our actions of “reverence” and “worship”. We are to “be in awe of” Him and we are to “honor” Him.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 1:7 ESV
The note on Proverbs 1:7 in the Reformation Study Bible says, in part:
The fear of the Lord is the only basis of true knowledge. This fear is not distrustful terror of God but rather the reverent awe and worshipful response of faith to the God who reveals Himself as the Creator, the Savior and the Judge.
Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the majesty of His creation?
Have you ever been in awe of our God when looking at His expression through the detail of the small baby, a child created in the image of God?
Has your spirit ever soared when entering a place of worship as you anticipate spending time with your Savior and God in worship?
Have you considered our Savior God who sent His only Son to die for your sins? Have you thanked Him today, even this moment, for such love, grace and mercy?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Unfortunately, our culture has forgotten this precept. We have instead turned to human philosophy and social engineers. We have created a generation of children who have turned to Hollywood or the Internet for their heroes and role models. The fantasy world of television and movies, with computer generated special effects, has become the reality that our youth crave. Young and old alike seek thrills and/or escape by turning to drugs and alcohol. We kill children without batting an eye, while we worry about the spotted owl or the snail darter fish.
Scripture does not change – its teachings are true and they are timeless. Thousands of years ago, God stated that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. It was true then, and it is true today.
I believe that those building the cathedrals were honoring God and creating a place of worship that was a physical representation of the glory and magnificence due Him in worship.
Note that I am not saying that all churches need to be this elaborate. Nor am I ignoring the role that the Popes or other “leaders” likely played in desiring a place of magnificence for his own benefit.
What I am saying is that we, even in our “modern” age, need to have a holy fear of our God. It is a heart issue, not an architectural one. We should give God the reverence, awe and honor to which He is due. In short, He is not the “Big Guy in the Sky”. He is our Creator, Sustainer and Savior … He is our Father and our God.
Father, forgive me when I have not given You the reverence that You deserve. Let my heart sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” throughout the day and let my praise to You be last on my lips as sleep overcomes me. May I love You and glorify You in all things.