Fear is almost a bad word in Christianity today. Reminders that the Bible has the words, Do not fear, 365 times between its covers have become a justification to eradicate it from our lives. And it is true that to live in perpetual anxiety is crippling. However, God gave us each of our emotions purposefully and for good cause. Fear has its place in our souls for several reasons. We would be wise to examine what we fear and why.
The absence of fear is as much or more of a mental disorder than being flooded by it. Psychopaths and sociopaths are immune to stress, which is why they able to commit horrendous acts. To live without any trace of fear is to lack a conscience or an awareness of danger. Preliminary studies show that teaching young children exhibiting psychopathic symptoms how to experience fear can derail the severe personality disorder. So why is fear important? Or perhaps what should we fear?
1: Fear of Consequences
I am a big believer in teaching through the reproofs of life. The consequences of our actions, both great and small, to no small extent determine the course of our lives. Cultivating the idea of consequences in our children must begin when they are young. According to brain development research, a real understanding of long term consequences isn’t fully formed until the age of twenty-five. This is why so many teens derail. A lot of hormones and no concept of the end results of impulsive actions can upend a young life so much that it will take years to get back on track.
In fact, developing a conscience requires a healthy fear of outcomes. The aftereffects of even small immoral or ill-considered deeds can create messy aftermaths that are not easily remedied. Responsibility in the areas of relationships, money, morality, and education can reap wonderful results. Even temporary mishandling of any can result in personal costs that have repercussions outside of our own lives. This is where necessary fear comes in. How we handle our lives affects more than just ourselves. The consequences of our actions are like the ripples from a stone dropped in a pond. The circles get bigger before they fade.
2: Fear, or the Survival Instinct
I am not particularly afraid of death, or if I am, it isn’t on my top ten list of current obsessions. What I do fear is dying unnecessarily. We are made with an intuition that, when honed properly, keeps us from harm. The book, The Gift of Fear, does a really good job of outlining how our bodies and minds work together to keep us from situations where we could experience violence. I am aware that Christians are often called to go into situations that could mean danger. But even Jesus avoided angry mobs until such a time as He was called to give His life. He did not pitch Himself over a cliff at the Devil’s behest. Jesus did not seek out or flirt with danger.
For me, the real significance of this survival instinct comes in the form of a concern for women, particularly young women. So often, young women ignore their intuition because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of a man whose intentions may not be on the side of the angels. God made us with a mind that is working on several different levels at once. Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us a warning as He did when He told a friend of mine to get off the road suddenly. Seconds later, a giant semi came hurtling off the bridge directly where she would have been driving.
But those little warning signs we feel in our bodies that tell us a person is unsafe comes from the information gathered by an active subconscious mind and a cooperative conscious mind. If something tells you that walking down a dark alley at night is unsafe, listening to that caution can stave off unnecessary suffering. Fear and wisdom are not unconnected.
3: The Fear of the Lord
I hear the verse often quoted, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But then, in an attempt to reconcile the fact that fear is off limit to Christians, we try to work our way around the f word. Fear, we are told, in this context, means awe or respect. I don’t buy it. When I stop to consider the vastness of a God who could create a universe which does not end, I am afraid. When I consider that what I sow, I will reap because God made it so, I am afraid.
Yet it is this very vastness that gives me courage. If this enormous God is on my side, what do I have to fear but Him? My very fear of Him is the recognition that without the Great I Am, I am not. Understanding His omnipotence and my frailty teaches me wisdom. Who am I without Him? And how can I hope to live a worthy life apart from the One in whom I live and breathe and have my being?
We worship what we love the most, true. But we also worship what we fear the most. If we cannot imagine falling before Him in absolute love and in absolute fear and trembling, our god is too small. One small act of disobedience brought death and suffering into the world. How can I ignore the incredible act of sacrifice that brought about redemption?
The world, the flesh, and the devil are playing for keeps. But I stand on a Rock against which no man will prevail, even myself. I must take up my cross and follow, or lose hold of my own soul. If we were to understand the incredible impact that our lives have on others, we would be far more afraid than we are to hold our belief in Jehovah so lightly.