• Richard Parrish

March Reflection by Richard Parrish - Fear For The Right Reason



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“Even though a person sins and gets by with it hundreds of times throughout a long life, I’m still convinced that the good life is reserved for the person who fears God, who lives reverently in his presence, and that the evil person will not experience a “good” life. No matter how many days he lives, they’ll all be as flat and colorless as a shadow—because he doesn’t fear God.[1]”


REFLECT


Most of us are well acquainted with that unpleasant feeling triggered by a perception of danger — whether it's real or imagined. We call it fear.

Undoubtedly, there are times when fear is our friend.

Something alerts us, which ignites a metabolic change within our bodies, impacting our behavior. We may freeze, run, or attempt to hide from a potentially traumatic experience.

Fear can be an internal alarm — a gift alerting us to danger.

A healthy fear of snakes isn't a bad thing. Living in a desert climate, rattlesnakes are familiar neighbors — especially this time of year.

I've not had any interactions with these critters that have taught me to be fearful of them. My fear comes naturally. Just seeing one, brings on a visceral reaction. My heart pounds and I begin to sweat. My senses are immediately awakened to potential danger. I know…

… Many of my reptilian loving friends think my fear is over-the-top. They assure me that “these reptiles are shy creatures — more afraid of you than you are of them.” That's highly debatable; especially when I unexpectedly see one!

And you can be assured: If I’m ever in the hills of Appalachia worshipping in a church where they bring out the snakes… I'm out of there! However, fear is not only allocated to snakes.

Fright can also overpower us with debilitating worry!

Ask anyone who hears the report from his or her doctor that the tumor is cancerous. Having two daughters, who courageously faced their battles with breast cancer, I'm familiar with the fears that a medical diagnosis can provoke.

And what about the panic that’s caused for the wife of a husband and father who abandons his family? Or, the single mother – barely able to support her children week-to-week – suddenly becomes laid off?

Fear frequently makes it difficult for us to enjoy – let alone participate in – the normal activities of life.

A concern of rejection, prompted by insecurity, can paralyze us. As a boy who suffered from a stammering speech impediment, I refused to speak in class for fear of ridicule and embarrassment.

Friends of mine have shared stories of how they missed out on numerous opportunities because their fear of failure was stronger than their desire for success.

The Bible has much to say about fear.

We’re often reminded not to be fearful. Someone calculated that there are 365 times in the Bible where we are prompted: “Do not fear.” That's one reminder for each day; a necessary prompt for each of us.

Jesus counsels us not to fear those who can kill our body but who cannot kill our soul (Mt. 10:32). We are not to worry ourselves concerning what we are to eat, drink or wear (Mt. 6:31), or about what will happen tomorrow (Mt. 6:34). Paul admonishes us: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

Many things in life do not deserve the time or emotional energy required to worry about them. However, we are to fear God!

When I was a child, I had a misinformed view of what it meant to “fear God.” I was terrorized by the thought of God punishing me because I had messed up. My fear of God did not encourage me to come near God, but to distance myself from Him.

Martin Luther spoke of “servile” and “filial” fear. The “servile fear” is that of a prisoner in a torture chamber – filled with terrible anxiety, awaiting the next punishment from the jailer. However, Luther’s view of “filial fear” is a reflection of the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family.

He envisions a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and wants to please them. The son or daughter’s desire to honor their parent is paramount, and the thought of displeasing the parent brings deep sadness.

To appropriately “fear the Lord, God” is to revere, honor, respect, and be in awe of God’s attributes.

What’s your fear? Is it climate change, the economy, or who is — or who is not — our President? What troubles you?

Is it issues of immigration or fears of socialism or capitalism? Are you alarmed with the increasing moral disdain expressed by society? Do matters of education, health premiums, social media, hackers, telemarketing scams, terrorism, or senseless shootings keep you awake at night?

Are we not all troubled by racism, hate-filled speech, and the breach of ethics by leaders and celebrities?


Yes, I can understand why many are fearful. However, frightful people frequently fail to distinguish what's a wholesome — or unwholesome — response to anxiety.

My friends who champion the slogan "No Fear," just may be on to something. While I recognize these are people who have no problem jumping off cliffs with a parachute or hang-glider I can't help but wonder if I'm inclined to let fear keep me from enjoying life – and God – more fully?

There are numerous reasons why we are impacted by fear. Some are valid – others, not so much. In the Bible, fear is more often viewed as "wise behavior." Proverbs 1:7 reveals:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.[2]”

To be fearful for the right reason is always beneficial. And, discerning between healthy and unhealthy fear, requires on-going discipline.

Perhaps in our climate of fear, it would be beneficial for each of us to re-examine how we fear the Lord? And, just possibly it would be advantageous for us to recognize God is the One we are to revere above all.

I’m not suggesting a “pass” that excuses us from our responsibility to constructively contribute to the issues and concerns of our world. However, I am advocating that we remember that it’s time to fear for the right reason.

If the pressures of our world are triggering fear, remember: The antidote to fear is the conviction that a loving God always protects and accomplishes his desire, and that God’s promises can be trusted.

It’s easy and tempting to be focused on all the issues of life that stimulate anxiety. In a frightening world, it’s easy to forget WHOM and WHAT we are to fear.

The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is still a timely reminder for each of us!

RESPOND

  • What’s my greatest fear? How does that fear inhibit my life?

  • Is my fear of God frightening? Or, am I captivated by God’s faithfulness and love?

  • Does anxiety dominate my life? Am I open to trust God to protect me and accomplish his desire?

  • Am I ready to fear for the right reason?


[1] Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Ec 8:12–13.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Pr 1:7.