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Fearing Papa

"... Not what you expected?..."

When I started thinking clearly about what fear is, I came to see “fearing god” as a good thing.  “Fear God” is a biblical command; it’s everywhere, from Genesis to Revelation, so we really can’t explain it away as one of those strange, obsolete Old Testament-y things.  St. John says terror is cast out by love, which is a great thing, since being terrified of God and people and things is a miserable way to live.  But “the fear of the Lord” seems to be something distinct from that. 

LeRon Shults gave me the following definition of fear, the most precise I’ve ever heard:  Fear is our response to a perceived inability to control an existentially relevant object.  Or in other words, when something I can’t control is able to affect my life, I feel fear. 

For example, tornadoes:  I cannot control them, they can hurt me, so I feel some fear toward them.  For another example, my wife:  I feel a certain fear of her, simply by virtue of the fact that she’s able to affect me in ways I cannot control.  And this is a GOOD thing.  If I keep her so far away from me that she can’t affect me, then that means our relationship lacks intimacy.  If I think I can control her, then that means we’re enmeshed and we lack healthy boundaries.  But because she CAN affect me, and because I know I CAN’T control her, that means every moment with her is an adventure, where I’m always ready for her to affect me in unexpected ways beyond my control.  After 13 years of marriage, she still surprises me.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It is like that with Papa.  Papa is infinitely beyond my control, and infinitely able to affect my life, so fear is a quite sensible response to her.  But because Papa has revealed herself to me, I have learned to trust that those surprises are good surprises.  This does not decrease my fear, because my trust does not decrease her ability to affect me, nor does it increase my ability to control her.  Instead, this appropriate fear becomes the natural habitat for faith to evolve and grow.  

To fear Papa is to know that every day will be an adventure.  To trust Papa is to believe that the adventures will ultimately prove to be good ones.


2 Responses

  1. I love this definition. As a child, I heard the brimstone sermons from the pulpit – like the imagery you used about a Zeus-like God waiting to strike us down with a lightning bolt as soon as we mess up. I wanted to be saved so I wouldn’t go to the fiery pit if I died in a car crash on my way home from church, NOT because I desired a relationship with Papa or believed Papa wanted a relationship with me. Somehow the word fear is transformed as it walks hand in hand with the words trust and love.

    Being a parent also gives me a glimpse into Papa. I don’t want my children to cower in fear from me, but I want them to trust me and have a healthy respect for me as they understand that I have their best interests at heart.

  2. I know what you mean about being a parent. I want my kids to have LOTS of fun with me, but I need them to know that I take the “Dad” job with utmost seriousness, and that I mean business. I want to be like Aslan–good but never SAFE, if you get what I mean…

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