Sometimes fear seems to hang in the very air we breathe. Whether as an emotional response to danger or an experience of awe, fear is formational.
Fear as an emotional response to danger is believed by many to be a basic emotion we are born with like joy, sadness, and anger. In this sense, fear is a basic survival response we rely on to warn us of impending danger, evil, pain – whether real or imagined.
It makes perfect sense to be afraid under certain circumstances; that’s healthy fear. For instance, if you’re standing in front of the lion exhibit at the zoo and see the lion lift the latch to escape – there’s a good chance of impending danger and by all means take flight. Remember, early humans that were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce. On the other hand, to be afraid to go to the zoo on the off chance that the lion might escape from his cage is an imagined threat. Could it happen, yes; do you know it will happen, no. That’s unhealthy fear.
Where do our fears (emotional responses) come from? People develop specific fears as a result of learning; But, fear is complicated. When healthy, it can be a natural, good sense response that would cause you to run from a dangerous situation. When unhealthy it can be both emotionally and spiritually crippling.
Fear (as an emotional response) is only as deep as the mind allows. We are bombarded with scary things; elections, climate change, terrorist attacks, spiders, death, being a failure, heights, violence, being alone, a future without toilet paper…and now we can add pandemic to the list. As Christians, how do we respond (logic) to our fears (emotion)?
Unless the ‘danger’ is very real, and very present (think lion) we can take our fear out and examine it by asking ourselves a few questions.
- Is my fear real or perceived? This is the difference between something has actually or will happen vs. anxiety and worry over what might happen. Worry is a form of fear and it wears you out! (in this case, try the worry knot exercise)
- Is my fear legitimate; logical based on what I’ve seen, heard, believe to be true, etc?
- What does scripture, reason and tradition have to say about my fear?
- With courage, can I face this fear and overcome it with God’s help?
Sometimes, fears are an opportunity to develop courage
It is important to have a healthy respect for our fears. However, are there times outside of dangerous situations that if we choose safety we are also reinforcing our fear? Sometimes, fears are an opportunity to develop courage; and courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear (being honest, being true to yourself). Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do (speaking in public, dressing differently). There can be no courage unless you’re scared.
Switching gears, let’s consider fear as reverential awe. Christians believe fear is a healthy response to God. The Bible commands that we fear God and yet also love Him. This may seem like a contradiction at first, but when we think about what the Bible actually means the contradiction goes away.
Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere himPsalm 33:8
We usually fear something (such as a vicious dog or a violent storm) when we expect it to harm us. In other words, we fear something that has no concern for us and is a source of constant danger to us. But, God isn’t like that. God created and loves us. To fear God, in this definition of the word, is not to shrink back in terror but rather to have a deep reverence and to stand in awe at God’s holiness and majesty and power and love.
Just in case you recognize a form of fear as something you’re experiencing lately, take comfort and encouragement in these Words of Wisdom –
- “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” Oswald Chambers
- “Courage is a special kind of knowledge: the knowledge of how to fear what ought to be feared and how not to fear what ought not to be feared.” John Abbott
- “Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile… initially scared me to death.” Betty Bender
- “How do you know so much about everything? was asked of a very wise and intelligent man; and the answer was ‘By never being afraid or ashamed to ask questions as to anything of which I was ignorant.”
- “Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Arthur Summers Roche
- “Character isn’t inherited. One builds it daily by the way one thinks and acts, thought by thought, action by action. If one lets fear or hate or anger take possession of the mind, they become self-forged chains.” Helen Gahagan Douglas
- “Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” Max Ehrmann, Desiderata