“O Lord, hear my prayer, give ear unto my supplication in Your truth; hearken unto me in Your righteousness. And enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You.” (Ps 142/143: 1-2)
The “fear of God,” that is, the fear of His judgment, is a liberating thing. This is true for two reasons: 1. God, as the source of justice and truth, is the only perfect Judge. As distinct from human beings, He does not embrace prejudice, nor does He form trivial opinions or hold petty grudges; and 2. His justice is not “fair.” He can be quite unreasonable, bestowing mercy, no strings attached, to the repentant heart.
A fear of judgment is a gift, inherent to a normal human being from a very young age. But a proper use of this gift, I think, is something we develop and discern throughout the course of our spiritual struggle. Quite early in life, children begin to care what other children think of them, and often by their teenage years become entirely dependent on the opinions of their peers.
I can similarly misdirect this gift, by focusing primarily on human opinion of me. But when I place my focus on God’s judgment, rather than on the ever-changing winds of human opinion, I liberate myself from the needless fear of what everyone else thinks. This is why the “fear of God” is a gift, ultimately teaching me humble self-acceptance. It reveals to me the liberating fact that “no one living is righteous” before Him.