Thursday, June 12, 2014

Healthy Fear

One of the intriguing aspects of the Bible (at least to me) is the repeated command to "fear the Lord." It's an idea that appears at least one hundred times in places like Psalm 2:11 ("Serve the Lord with fear") or Proverbs 9:10 ("Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom").

It's something I've been asked about many times over the years from kids and adults: "If God loves me, why should I be afraid?" And over the years, I've given pretty standard theological answers about being in awe of God's majesty and God's right to revoke mercy at anytime and blah blah blah...

Because while I don't think my answers were wrong, they left me unsatisfied and I've usually felt there has to be a better explanation to use. Then a couple months ago, I thought of one while listening to someone else preaching (on a completely unrelated topic).

I thought about the fact that we consider cold feet on a wedding day completely normal. Is it because we think the beloved will suddenly turn into a monster and eat us? No. It’s because we recognize the enormity of the moment. We recognize that this event/relationship/emotion will change us; we recognize that we can’t predict what this will mean for our lives.

Because I love/am loved, I may do things or live in ways I didn't think I would or could or should. Because I love/am loved, I must consider the needs and wishes of my beloved and not just my own. Because I love/am loved, I am entrusting a huge part of myself to someone I can't control, making myself vulnerable, and risking being hurt. And that's scary. Love is scary.

And we think it's normal to feel fear in that place.

God, God's love, and the relationship God offers to us are no different. They will change us. We cannot predict what God will mean for our lives or where faith may lead us. It is an enormous moment whenever we grasp the full breadth of God's intention for us. Of course we would be afraid. It would be foolish not to be afraid in that moment.

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One of the best pieces of advice I received from someone in my preaching education was that the biochemical process in the brain for fear and excitement are almost identical. So when you feel anxious about public speaking, tell yourself, "I'm not scared; I'm excited to talk to these people." It repurposes the adrenaline to fuel you instead of feeding anxiety. (It has been helpful for me before many a sermon.) Sometimes I've even used this to help calm grooms and brides before a wedding.

At its best, I think that is what the "fear of God" is meant to do. It's fear that doesn't cripple or hinder us (that kind of fear is trouble), but instead it feeds anticipation and fuels us to go deeper in our relationship to God. It's the feeling of standing at the altar, overwhelmed at what is happening, but also giddy to see what's next. 

To fear God doesn't mean someone doesn't understand God's love for her, but just the opposite. God is big. God will change us. God will make us vulnerable and out of our own control. So be afraid... and be excited. 

“Faith makes everybody scared. It's the unknown, the don't know, that keeps me hanging on.” -Lifehouse, "Unknown"

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