Well, it talks about it in two ways – there’s a good fear and a bad one. The good one is this – ‘fear of God’.
That doesn’t mean just being plain scared of Him. Instead it’s recognising the Lord for who He is – and giving Him the reverence and glory He deserves. God’s not an extension of the bullying boss or absent Father. But as Christians, we can go to the opposite extreme and try to domesticate Him instead. Jesus can become just another ‘mate’ – and not a very close one either. The kind you only call up when you need a favour – or when there’s nothing good on TV. Jesus is our friend – but He’s also our Lord. He’s human – but He’s equally divine. And as CS Lewis famously observed, ‘he’s good, but he’s not safe’.
It’s interesting what people fear in Scripture. This morning, I was reading one of my favourite passages from Mark 4 and 5. At the end of Mark 4, Jesus is in a boat with the disciples. When a furious storm comes up, they cry out to him to save them. You’d expect a description of how they were feeling – some sweating, a couple of panic attacks … right? But we’re not given it. Here’s what we are told;
Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
It is at this point, and not during the life-threatening storm, that we’re told the disciples are ‘terrified’.
Similarly, in the next scene, Jesus heals a man who has been possessed by many demons. Here’s how the man is introduced;
this man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
Now, that’s pretty scary. Little wonder the locals are familiar with his suffering and give him a wide berth.
But how do they react when Jesus heals the man and sets him free? Do they celebrate this great redeemer? Ask him to tell them more about himself, or in for a cup of tea and a hobnob…?
When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
No – they’re afraid. And they want him out, not just of their district, but the whole region.
What shakes the disciples is not a natural catastrophe, no matter how terrifying – it’s starting to see who Jesus is. Equally, no amount of Exorcist-style dramatics faze the Gerasene locals. But when God’ Son shows up in the flesh, that’s a different story.
Fear of the Lord is a really good thing. But as Jesus reminds his disciples (and us), fear in itself, is not. I guess it’s relative.
So have you ever had nights where you lie awake worrying about something fairly minor? – maybe an insensitive comment you made at work or a social event with people you won’t know very well. The fear is genuine – but then you get a call telling you that a loved one is seriously ill. Or maybe you’re made redundant. Suddenly, the old fear is put into perspective. Why were you worrying about something so small?
In a similar way, Jesus says this;
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Who’s in charge of your life and your problems? The good news is this – not you. There’s a million different fears and worries that you will never be able to change – from fear of sickness to being hit by lightning. But that doesn’t mean that life is random either. The Bible tells us that the world was shaped and is sustained in every detail by an Almighty God. A God who is all-powerful, incredible, awe-inspiring and indescribable. Yet a God who is also personal, who stooped down to become like us and who numbers the very hairs on our head.
This is the God who deserves our reverence, our fear, our worship and our love. Nothing and no-one can snatch us from His hand. When we’re in the furnace, He’s there with us. He went to the Cross to deliver those who all their lives were held in slavery by fear of death. And when we trust in Him, we don’t receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear, but the Spirit of sonship – so that we can call Him Father and give our fears to Him.