Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression. He encouraged out of work Americans who were faced with incredible uncertainty that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I think as Americans we hate fear. I think the only we hate more than fear is pain. Fear doesn’t fit our image of the brave Pilgrims who got on a boat to nowhere, faced hardship and founded a society. Fear doesn’t fit our image of revolutionaries who fought against incredible odds to win our freedom from the mother country. Fear doesn’t fit our image of the pioneers who settled inhospitable lands.
I wonder if fear is all bad. I have learned that pain isn’t all bad. The most life changing time in my life was when my dad died. I experienced incredible pain but that pain drew me closer to God and brought deep healing to my soul.
I am in the midst of a breach with a friend that I deeply and dearly love. This friend has hurt me in ways that I couldn’t even begin to describe. I went to this friend and asked for us to pray together about our breach. We did. And as we prayed, I felt incredible fear. I felt fear that this friend would hurt me again the way that they hurt me before. My friend tried to encourage me that perhaps I wasn’t trusting the Lord. I pondered that perspective. But lo and behold, this friend did hurt me again, in the same way.
I think the Lord was speaking to me in stirring up fear in my heart…perhaps warning me that my friend wasn’t ready for the reconciliation I was hoping for and still hope for. Perhaps the fear I felt was an advanced warning signal that I should have paid attention to.
The Bible is full of references to fear. We are told in the Old Testament to fear God. In the New Testament we are told that perfect love casts out fear. The angels came to the shepherds and told them to fear not. Gabriel came to Mary and told her to fear not.
What am I to fear or not fear? When is fear actually a good thing? When it is a bad thing?
Here’s where I am on this today. It depends on two criteria – the trustworthiness of the person involved and the probability that the bad thing you don’t want to happen might happen. See the diagram below.
- Fear is unfounded when the risks of the bad thing happening are low and the trust in the other person is high
- Fear should be acknowledged and some caution taken when either a) the risks that the bad thing you don’t want to happen will happen or b) even if the risks are high, there is a high degree of trust and confidence in the other person.
- Fear is a helpful warning sign if the risks are high that the bad thing you don’t want to happen will happen and the trustworthiness of the other person is low. This fear is the kind that one should sit up and take notice of.
You take notice and extra precautions when walking a dark alley at night and you come upon a stranger. You take notice when you start a business venture that has the potential to deplete your life savings and you are either partnering with or taking the advice of someone who isn’t trustworthy. You take notice when you are ready to give your heart to someone once again and you fear that they won’t take good care of it if they haven’t taken good care of it in the past.
That’s the gift of fear. Jesus says in Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Fear puts us on high alert. To be more aware. To be moved to guard our hearts like a treasure.