Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. (Joshua 24:14 NIV)
I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings series, and for the most part really enjoyed the movies as well. One of the major taglines in The Fellowship of the Ring, included in most trailers, occurs when Frodo first meets Aragorn in Bree. Aragorn asks Frodo if he is frightened of the wraiths pursuing him, and when Frodo says yes, Aragorn responds, “Not nearly frightened enough.”
Fear is often used in the world today by entertainment outlets as the harness for featured thrills and terrors, or by the media as a means to coerce other people to live and act a certain way. But natural fear can be an important reactive defense, to keep one away from a dangerous situation or prevent us from trying to act the wrong way toward something we do not understand. It is just as important to understand and embrace the natural fears in our lives as it is to avoid being overcome by worldly or manipulative fears.
I have a lot of fear in my life right now. As a parent of two young children, I am increasingly fearful for their safety, interactions and provisions given the instability and recent events in this country. I am self-critical by nature and constantly have a nagging fear that I will not be good enough at some new unexpected aspect of my job, undertaking a personal project, or being an effective role model to my kids. Two bad experiences at Wild Waves gave me an aversive fear of thrill rides (which I will need to shake off if a Disney trip is in my family’s future). These are only a few examples, and in most cases, these are worldly fears generated by some psychological blocks created by my own mind that can be undone with the proper countermeasures. The fears I cannot shake are those beyond my control, including that of God.
Fear God. What exactly does that mean? It is a warning or advice given by numerous figures in the Bible, but one that is easy to misconstrue. Fear in this case is not a response of avoidance out of terror but reverence out of awe and wonder. When we directly witness or hear testimony of God performing miracles, we are naturally afraid because we do not understand how it is possible. Yes, there may be consequences, perhaps serious ones, if we disobey God, but fear of Him should not be based on this. The desirable reaction is to act in obedience to Him, so that we can continue to be in His presence and experience His companionship and the magnificent force of His power and wisdom in action. We fear God knowing what He can do.
Try as I might to make the fear of God the center of my life, I am easily distracted by worldly fears and human nature. It is then easy for me to make two common mistakes: view fear as a weakness or hindrance and do anything I can to dispel or overcome it; or rationalize errant actions and reactions, even sinful ones, on the grounds that they will inevitably occur because like anyone else I am not perfect and have my flaws. Either way, I find myself pushing God away and often struggling all the more because I am not letting Him take control of the turbulence in my mind and guide me.
If there must be a goal in the context of fearing God, consider this: my biggest fear is living and dying alone. Not lonely, but truly alone. There is an important difference, which Joseph Stowell highlights in his book Coming Home: The Soul’s Search for Intimacy with God. Loneliness can be resolved by changing surroundings and building external relationships, while aloneness is, in Stowell’s words, internal disconnection “from all that truly satisfies, sustains and secures.” He goes on to say that “the ultimate terror of hell will be… the realization that for eternity there will be no hope of God… Aloneness – forever – in its rarest, most desperate form.” That sounds to me like something to be truly afraid of, and I am reminded again of Aragorn’s words.
So I will often ask myself, and I ask you: when you feel that your lives are lacking in any way, are you frightened? If so, are you frightened enough?