Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holy and Unholy Fear


Sadly, since the election, fears have risen that we are on the brink of doom. There’s a fear that’s healthy and good, a sign of maturity and love. There’s also a fear that’s bad, that blocks maturity and love. But this needs explanation.

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about fear in the Scriptural passage that says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Too often texts like these, as well as religion in general, have been used to instill an unhealthy fear inside of people in the name of God. We need to live in “holy fear,” but holy fear is a very particular kind of fear that should not be confused with fear, as we normally understand it.

What is “holy fear”? What kind of fear is healthy? What kind of fear triggers wisdom?

Holy fear is love’s fear, namely, the kind of fear that is inspired by love. It’s a fear based upon reverence and respect for a person or a thing we love. When we genuinely love another person we will live inside of a healthy anxiety, a worry that our actions should never grossly disappoint, disrespect, or violate the other person. We live in holy fear when we are anxious not to betray a trust or disrespect someone. But this is very different from being afraid of somebody or being afraid of being punished. 

Bad power and bad leadership intimidate and make others afraid of them. God is never that kind of power or authority. God entered our world as a helpless infant and God’s power still takes that same modality. Babies don’t intimidate, even as they inspire holy fear. We watch our words and our actions around babies not because they threaten us, but rather because their very helplessness and innocence inspire an anxiety in us that makes us want to be at our best around them.

The Gospels are meant to inspire that kind of fear. God is love, a benevolent power, not a power that wants to control and intimidate us, a gracious authority, not someone to be feared. Indeed God is the last person we need to fear. Jesus came to rid us of fear. Virtually every theophany in scripture (an instance where God appears) begins with the words: “Do not be afraid!” What frightens us does not come from God.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that all our relationships are based on a “holy fear’ of respect, tolerance and compassion for one another without prejudice or bigotry. Let us pray for our political leaders that they learn to lead with a “holy fear.”