Wednesday, May 16, 2012

God's use of fear.

The topic of fear came up, as it does often, in a recent email from someone teaching on the subject. They got hung up on it philosophically and asked for my input. This is the email I received and my subsequent response. I look forward to developing these thoughts some more....

"I need an example of a biblical character who sensed danger or fear from God and by doing so, avoided something bad.  There are so many examples where God protected people and told them not to fear.  But what I need to do is to prove that sometimes, fear is good.  Or is it???  I am not talking about doing something God wants us to do…. Certainly, we must overcome fears there.  I am talking about appropriate fear.  Sometimes it is from God in order to redirect us or 'save' us."

There may be an example...I just cant think of one. When you use the words, "appropriate fear" I take that to mean right or correct fear, which by definition happens when it's supposed to. In fact, appropriate fear is a gift of God that keeps us alive, as it is designed into us. Species which heed their appropriate fears outlive ones that don't. 

If one doesn't have fear when fear is necessary, then,

a) they would need threatened with unnatural or extrinsic consequences to arouse fear. Like telling a child if they play in the street they lose a toy. The risks of the former are incomprehensible to her little mind, but losing a toy she gets. So though the two things aren't related (traffic and her toy), you tie them together for her sake. When she gets older, this arrangement changes. Part of her maturing is the lessening need for extrinsic threats. Religion struggles with allowing people to grow into wisdom, and keeps extrinsic threats in view well into adulthood. This is not the pattern of all growing in wisdom, but of all remaining under control.

b) One may have a malfunctioning brain, much like the woman who's was damaged and lost her fears, which was either a deficiency or a blessing, depending on your perspective.

There seem to be far more examples Biblically of people being encouraged by God to get past their fear, rather than to be scared (psalm 27:1, Isaiah 41:10, etc...). 

Regarding fear being good or not, that may not be a full enough question. Simply speaking, as I said above, if fear is unnatural to the circumstances, or extrinsic, then I submit respectfully its use is for a less mature person or people. Consider the warning, "If you touch the antique vase, mommy will swat your hand" as an example. Instilling a fear rooted in extrinsic consequences assumes that the child can't/won't understand the worth of the antique, and the associated danger in handling it. But the child can appreciate the dread of the swatted hand. Therefore, fear is used, but only due to the child's immaturity. Not because the fear is "good". The hope would be that the seeming need for this kind of fear will be outgrown by the child. (One could argue that a real world example of instilling fear, whether based on natural or unnatural consequences, to save a life is "good". But then that opens us up to a conversation about ends justifying means and necessary evil, which is important, but not in keeping with my present point.)

Childish adult behavior has extrinsic fear connected to it. If an adult drives drunk and is caught, they go to jail. But theres nothing intrinsic or naturally inherent about the behavior and the consequences. What would being intoxicated in an automobile have to do with being put in a cement box against your will. They don't naturally flow together. One leads to the other extrinsically, as the unnatural consequence for a behavior society agrees is unsafe, unfair and undesirable. Law is like that a lot. It exists to guide and control those who lack proper will-guidance and self-control to the detriment of the greater good. For the mature, which is another way of saying "the wise", the natural consequences instill the appropriate fear. I don't personally drive drunk, but not at all because of the law, but because of the inherent consequences of that behavior on myself and others. I used to not do it because the consequences of the law (and having a cop for a father) served as a deterrent. Now, the value of life and the understanding of how one second of foolishness can ruin lives forever makes it not even a temptation. At risk of sounding self-righteous...I identify this as maturity and wisdom in me. (Now if I could just get it to take root in other areas of my life....). I no longer need to be threatened, because the inherent, intrinsic consequences of reality are enough. But then again, many have claimed maturity like I just did and still fallen, having only the extrinsic threat of jail time to keep them from totally coming off the tracks....

So maybe the Kingdom of God is a way of talking about the myriad ways human beings outgrow any need for law, because the law of Love (of God and others) has taken over. The wisdom of understanding the consequences of our action or inaction, the natural laws of the universe (the ones God ostensibly established first) are all we need. Maybe the Kingdom of God has no rules. Jesus Christ is the King of what could almost be called a lawless Kingdom. Maybe that's why Jesus says the Kingdom is here and yet is still coming, because guys like me understand and live it in some categories, but have a lot of growing up to do in all the other ones. 

So here's to wisdom and maturing and to perfect love slowly, but surely, driving out fear.


1 comment:

mpeel said...

Are there truly no comments here because no one wants to admit to being afraid? Thats the easy part. Peeling back the onion to figure out why is what sucks.