Fear Not!

I have lots of fears…instinctive, hard wired fears are knee-jerk self-preservation fears: against earthquakes, fires, floods, guns, terrorists, cancer, hell itself. Even Jesus seems to have “feared” and asked His Father to remove the cup of suffering and death from Him. I think it is safe to say he would not be fully human if He did not experience some of these hard-wired fears. These may be knee-jerk reaction fears, but they are in response to real things that can hurt, harm, devastate, kill me. Self-preservation kicks in and fear urges me to flee or fight.

Evidence of this type of fear is rampant in the Hebrew text. A good example occurs when God is making His covenant with Israel through Moses. There, He makes it abundantly clear of His power and might: Now as all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blast of the shofar and the mountain smoking, they became afraid and trembled.[1] [Ex 20: 18a] They were even afraid of Moses face after he had seen God; they insisted that he wear a veil. [Ex 34:30-35]

However, Moses’ explains that this instinctive fear is a test, a reminder of the consequences of not obeying God: “Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and put the fear of him upon you so you do not sin.”[Ex 20:20] Here, my temporary, instinctive human fear is given a salutary reason; the fear comes from God for my benefit, because He loves me and knows He needs to get my attention, to strengthen my faith, the increase my trust, to draw me back to His love.

God is with me always, I do not need to truly fear such passing occurrences. Everything that happens to me is within the loving purview of God’s providence for me. Jesus reminds me: do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, [Mt 10:28] which is precisely what martyrs did and do…terribly frightening prospect in the abstract, but, with faith, I am promised that I will be Spirit reinforced and strengthened in the moment.

“Fear of the Lord” is a constant refrain running through the Hebrew Scripture.[2] This Fear engendered by confrontation with the omnipotence, the overwhelming majesty, the Holiness of the Divine, is a combination of awe and reverence with a realization that this is the God against whom I can and have sinned and before whom I must stand and account for my actions. Such fear is a grace given us so that I am given a constant reminder of God’s presence and a perpetual restraint on my propensity to sin, the omnipresent realization of God’s Justice.

This “Fear of the Lord” is the fear to which God calls Abram before he makes the first covenant with him: Do not fear, Abram! I am your shield; I will make your reward very great. [Gen 15:1] God puts Abram’s reaction to the unknown, to a confrontation with God, to the consequences of obeying God in context, in perspective.

This “Fear not!” is a frequent refrain of Jesus.[3] Many of the events prompting his statement combine the “Fear of the Lord” reaction to Jesus’ manifestation of his divinity with instinctive self-preservation reaction to perceived “threats,” e.g. ghost-like appearances of Jesus walking on the water, all of a sudden appearing though locked doors, or Him being transfigured into the Christ with Moses and Elijah.

Though Jesus is constantly telling me to “Fear not,” He can say it all He wants; but sometimes it just doesn’t register…my ongoing fear is that I am constantly being called by Him: “‘Come!’ [Mt 14:29] get up, get out of your boat of complacency, my zone of conformity, of control, of comfort, and start walking on the water, start carrying that cross, start following Me.”

When it comes to God, my relationship with fear is very complicated. Letting go of the familiar is tough enough. But what Jesus, what the Father, what the Holy Spirit ask of me each moment of my life is to leave the past behind, to forget the future and to step off into the Eternal Now, the Kingdom of Divine Providence, to encounter God’s perpetual choice.

Like Indiana Jones when confronted with the unseen bridge to the cave of the Holy Grail, each step seems to be a step into oblivion. Each is a step of faith, a step into the trompe l’oeil that is God, the solid stone upon which my faith must be built, upon which rests all of creation, all of being itself. He hides within, beneath and above the next flag stone, the next blade of grass, the next tread on the stairs to eternity, bearing me up, urging me on, assuring me of His unconditional presence. His unconditional love holds my hand as I, with trepidation, take one step, then another forward.

When I believe, I cross without fear; when I doubt, when I, in fear and trembling, look over the edge into the abyss of nothingness, when I fall prey to the skepticism, the cynicism, the disbelief of the world, I panic, stumble, fall.

Help me, Lord, confront the instinctual fears with which You challenge me daily, knowing these are as much reminders of Your love and care for me as the brilliant sunrise and the flowers of the field. Help me to cling to that salutary “Fear of the Lord” which helps me to remain in awe and reverence when the splendors of Your creation become too commonplace and my awareness of Your presences is dulled by familiarity. Keep my attention on You and not the roaring clamoring texts of the passing world, the wind of viral opinion nor the waves of climate change, corporate greed and oppression, lone gunmen, and racial and religious violence. Instead, help me to heed You and fear not was I step off the complacency of control, pride, hubris and ignorance onto the invisible but sure footing of Your providential Eternal Now. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] 120 times per listings in the Concordance of the New American Bible, Archive, Vatican, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_FA7.HTM

[3] 20 times in the Gospels plus 7 additional times in the Letters and Revelation. Ibid.

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