By: Dennis Bates
Fear is an interesting word. It is full of self contradiction, and in some ways depicts the human condition as well as any single word in the English language.
Fear is at the same time spiritual and physical and yet it is always intangible. Can you hold fear in your hand, touch it or smell it? No. However, you can hold things in your hand that make you afraid: a poisonous snake, for example, a bomb, jagged piece of glass. They are not fear intrinsically, but they cause it.
Some people, like me, are afraid of heights. I can look at a picture of a view from a high place and my legs get a strange, twitchy weakness even though I’m not there. Other people break out in a cold sweat when they are afraid. Again, the perspiration is not fear, but it is a manifestation of fear.
According to the dictionary, one definition of fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by the anticipation or awareness of danger.” In that case fear can be both good and bad. It can warn us when we are in danger and possibly keep us from getting hurt. However, it can also debilitate us and create all types of physical and emotional problems in us if there is really nothing to be afraid of. A child is afraid of the dark, for example, even though there is absolutely no reason to be.
The Bible tells us over and over again that Christians do not need to have this kind of fear. Psalm 34:4 tells us if we seek the Lord He will deliver us from all our fears. The 23rd Psalm tells us that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me.”
The angel that announced the Christ child’s birth in the fields told the trembling shepherds not to be afraid because it brought them good news of great joy that would be for everybody…a Savior and Lord. And the shepherds believed the angel and worshipped their new King even while He was only a child.
In short, if we believe there is no reason for us to be afraid of anything, even death itself, but there is reason to fear. Another definition of fear, although an older one, is to have a profound reverence and awe, especially toward God. The Bible also refers to this kind of fear from some of the earliest books of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament.
Deuteronomy 6:13 tells us we should fear (respect and hold in awe) the Lord our God. Revelation 14:7 admonishes us to fear (respect and hold in awe) God and give Him glory. This type of fear is a good thing.
As human beings we often confuse the two types of fear, being afraid when we shouldn’t be and showing no respect when we should. If we could only get the two straight, we would be a lot happier and a lot more useful in God’s mission for us. Perhaps we should include in our prayers a request for the Holy Spirit’s guidance so that we can rid ourselves of being afraid while we welcome the fear of respect and awe our God deserves.