Building on the cornerstone

I am a product of Christian education. My mother was a Christian grade school music teacher. My father, a builder, served on the Realty Board. One of my earliest memories is walking a piece of land with my father. He liked it, they bought it, and later I attended Kalamazoo Christian High School on that property. Another of my strong memories is the cornerstone of the old school positioned by the entrance of the new one.

Decades later I visited, noticed that cornerstone again, and saw this plaque of the beginning of the new school. It says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. PROVERBS” What caught my attention more was the date, 1959. I was born June 5, 1956, and I remember walking the undeveloped land with my father.

Fear of the Lord
I walked by that text every day in high school. That key word “fear” means something different to a high schooler and to many people today. Fear is a negative emotion. Why would we say that the cornerstone of our education is fearing God? Is this good theology or good education?

The phrase “fear of the Lord” occurs 10 times in Proverbs and 10 other times in the Hebrew Bible, but only once in the New Testament (Acts 9:31). In the three uses in 2 Chronicles there is an element of fear, but in the wisdom literature there is a different meaning, one that is hard to translate. “Respect” or “reverence” are in the right direction, but not strong enough. I think that “awe” expresses the idea well.

Awe is our response to that which is overwhelming. When we encounter the truly awesome, our body reacts in its breathing, often with an onomatopoeic “awe” sound. I reacted in awe to the 1959 date for this memory of walking the land with my father.

The Lord
The “fear” of the Lord is to encounter the presence and power of God in our world and lives. There is more. What is translated “Lord” is the unique divine name, “YHWH,” that expresses something of God’s majestic presence and power, “I AM,” and his covenant commitment, “I will be with you.”

The Jews treated it with such reverence that they did not say it for fear of taking it in vain. They substituted the Hebrew word for “Lord,” (“Adonai”) when they were reading the Scriptures. In the 16th Century a priest created the name “Jehovah” by taking the consonants of the divine name and adding the Hebrew vowels from “Adonai,” which Jewish scholars had put in the text to remind readers. Proverbs says that the awe of the uniquely named creator and covenant God of Israel who lives among his people is the beginning of wisdom.

Christian education
This “awe of YHWH” is the cornerstone of Christian education. The cornerstone of Christian education is to see God in all things, with a goal to help students build on this foundation. Just as our use of the word “fear” needs to be updated and re-expressed to communicate its true meaning, Christian education helps students express the foundation of the faith, the experience of the creator and covenant Lord, in new ways in our world.

This Christian education needs to be done in Christian day schools, in the church, in the home, in Christian colleges, in our places of work. The awe of YHWH is the beginning, the foundation, giving meaning and direction to all we do.

New temples
I have worked in churches and Christian education most of my life. I am in a new setting representing Christ on a secular university campus. Here we are bringing Christian education in a different way. Campus ministries come alongside secular education to give it a foundation and a future, a cornerstone and a capstone in Christ.

“. . . built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone [some translate as ‘capstone’]. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” Eph. 2:20-22.

  • Rev. Tom Wolthuis is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and the Director of Geneva Campus Ministry at the University of Iowa.

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