Be Not Afraid: From Human Fear to Holy Fear

Be Not Afraid: From Human Fear to Holy Fear

Human Fear: dread or alarm in facing danger; to be afraid or apprehensive; anxiety caused by belief in approaching danger or by a perceived threat; feeling frightened concerning one’s safety or a loved one’s well-being; unpleasant emotions due to the likelihood of something unwelcome or undesirable; trepidation over unexpected crisis.  Examples would include… dementia; survival; poverty; sickness; disaster; intimidation; climate change; public speaking; public shame; disability; loneliness; rejection; failure; pain; death; the unexpected; opposition; the Apocalypse; loss of loved one. 

Imagine an old-fashioned scale with two sides hanging down, ready to weigh different objects and compare their relative weights. On the one side you place all these human fears, and you watch as the scale is overwhelmed, dramatically revealing the heaviness of these fears. But then on the other side you place the holy Fear-of-the-Lord. And you will clearly witness a miracle… the Holy Fear side significantly outweighs the Human Fear side. All the human fears we can come up with, our worst fears, are outweighed by our best fear, our holy fear. The Fear-of-the-Lord ends up having more weight, more substance, more density, more eternal meaning. Holy fear is heavier and more significant than human fear. In a broken world, we are prone to fearfulness. In our weak moments, we are vulnerable to fear.

Seminary professor Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved with God, points out that we need to have a “conversion of fears.” In other words, our human fears need to be converted to a holy fear. She then mentions a powerful example of that conversion in Scripture, at the crossing of the Red Sea. On the western shore, Israel looked up, and “here is Egypt coming after them, and they were really afraid.” (Ex. 14:10). And then, on the far shore, Israel looked again, and this time it saw “Egypt dead, on the edge of the Sea. And Israel saw what the great hand of the Lord had done against Egypt, and the people feared the Lord...” (Ex. 14:31). The Israelites’ very human fear was converted to a holy fear. As we face and experience our fears, ask God to convert them to the fear of the Lord. We may still experience various human fears, we’re only human, but living into a life-changing fear of the Lord will go far in deepening our conversion experience.

Various Thoughts on the Fear-of-the-Lord:

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you he is the king of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion –The Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” “I’m longing to see him,” said Peter, “even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.” “That’s right, Son of Adam,” said Mr. Beaver… (from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis).

“I’ve heard all kinds of preachers… but the ones who have helped me most were the ones who were awestruck in the presence of the God about whom they spoke. I believe we ought to have again the old Biblical concept of God which makes God awful and makes men lie face down and cry, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.’ When the Holy Ghost shows us God as He is, we admire Him to the point of wonder and delight, struck with astonished wonder at the inconceivable elevation and magnitude and splendor of Almighty God. Adoration is to love God with all the power within us. To love God with fear and wonder and yearning and awe.” (A.W. Tozer).

“To fear God means having a reverent respect for him, because of his greatness and glory. To this is added gratitude for his kindness and mercy, awe at his power, confidence in his wisdom, submission to his will, and delight in the experience of communing in him. Besides all this, the person who fears God has a deep affection for him, such as a child might have for a parent.”  (Stuart Olyott, his commentary on Ecclesiastes).

“Fear is a healthy and necessary disposition toward God. In avoiding the word ‘fear’, translations are taking the edge off the point that the Biblical writers are making. The writers are speaking first of all of our proper gut response to God. Fear is an elemental response, the unmistakable feeling in our bodies, in our stomachs and our scalp, when we run up hard against the power of God. If we can experience that power close up and not be gripped in our guts by the disparity between God and ourselves, then we are in a profound state of spiritual slumber. Fear of the Lord is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.” (Ellen Davis, Getting Involved With God).

“Wisdom is the art of living skillfully, in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves… living well, living in robust sanity. Skilled living gets its start in the Fear-of-God, our insight into life from knowing a holy God.” (Eugene Peterson, from notes in Proverbs).

“We fear God because, even though we know we are secure in His eternal love for us, at the same time we know very well that there are many parts of our lives that are not yet purified and made holy. Until our love for God is perfected, how shall we not continue, in varying degrees, to be afraid of Him? So long as we are humble, this can be a healthy fear, because it will have the effect of continually driving us back into His arms. Jesus is telling us not to waste our fear on anyone less than God Almighty. This is the fear that is the beginning of wisdom. It is not the end of wisdom, for wisdom’s end is perfect love, in which there is no longer any fear.” (Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job).

“Life makes sense only when it is lived with an eye to God’s final control and authority and in a reverent, trustful relationship with Him.” (T. M. Moore, Ecclesiastes).

Holy fear involves the raised hands of adoration; the knocking knees of apprehension; the bare feet of awe; the dry mouth of uncertainty; the quickened heartbeat of anticipation; the bowed head of reverence; the humbled spirit of devotion; the straight posture of respect; the closed mouth of deference; the open mind of discovery; the tender heart of gratitude; the open ears of full attention. (Steve Larson).