I am petrified of stray dogs. I’ve even been hospitalized by “friendly” dogs. It’s like they pick me out of a humans line up as the quickest distance between two points: dinner and no dinner. I’m not particularly fond of spiders, either. I have a scar on the back of one hand from a small, but vicious spider attack (well, I was only 10, it felt like that). Those are the easy ones. The rest get pretty complicated.
I am an adoptee. I am told that fear is the one characteristic most endemic of adoptees; specifically fear of rejection. I enjoy both the status of adult adoptee and the distinction of being one who could be voted “most likely to love you to death to avoid being unloved.” Fear is something in which I am well trained; fear of rejection, of change, of failure, of success, of loneliness, of______. Decision-making, my single greatest fear, has been a nightmare for me whose primary default button has two questions written above it: “Is this safe?” and “Is this easy?”
To add insult to injury, this is not exactly promoted as an approach for the average male with the expected fearless jungle grunts that are to accompany our thrashing foray into the wild, blue yonder. Also, we live in a culture that, on the one hand supports it’s well-oiled machinery on the ethic of “fear of the other” while preaching the gospel of courage in overcoming all obstacles to become the successful, corporate citizens God meant for us to be. It’s confusing to say the least.
Three of the best words in the Bible are “do not fear.” Right around the corner from these are another four of the best, “fear of the Lord.” Huh? How exactly does that work? How is it that I am encouraged to live life without fear on one hand while on the other to seek it out? To further add to this conundrum, we are told in John’s first epistle, “perfect love casts out fear.” So, which fear is that now? Even to the untrained eye, a cursory reading seems to suggest that perfect love doesn’t belong with fear but does belong with Fear; that is, the fear of the Lord. Therefore, if I seek to be trained in the art of divine love, fear gets squeezed out. They cannot dwell together in a soul designed for one but not the other.
This has worked well for me. At those painful crossroads moments where I’m asked to take a deep breath and, with less than adequate light, jump out of God’s moving train into a dark, forbidding…something, I’ve come to trust the architecture of faith. That is, to lean into the idea that, no matter what, something, Someone, will be there to catch me. To fear God is, in a sense, to believe without the aid of 20/20 vision, that God is whom God says in the scriptures and through the lives of God’s people. Over the years I have developed an healthy awe for the ways in which the all-wise God is able to construct my life almost entirely out of crummy decisions, bad alliances, short attention spans, shorter spiritual memory and lack of community discernment.
Like guilt, fear can be self-perpetuating and the gift that keeps on giving. It chases its own tail in an effort to catch itself and propagate. We live amid an epidemic of phobiastica; a world so rife with fear (no extra charge for the bad pun) that when we meet someone truly fearless we think them unsophisticated or naïve, even delusional. That person, I believe, is one who has learned two things: Fear of the Lord and divine love. They are two sides of a highly valuable coin not to be lost. So, if I am not to fear, seek perfect love and the result will be a better fear – a trembling awe of God – that, in itself, is the way to perfect love. I like that equation.
It scares me to death, but I like it.