About fear

- Fr. Roy Cimagala - The Freeman

Fear is, of course, an emotion that can either be good or bad, depending on how it is experienced, who or what the object is, what motive, reason or cause produces it.

One good fear is the gift of the Holy Spirit called fear of the Lord. It's a filial fear of offending God who is our Creator and Father. The bad one is what is behind the words of Christ when he said, "Be not afraid," on a number of occasions.

It's clear that we have to know when to fear, and when not. In the Bible, some studies claim that there are 365 passages that speak of  'fear not,' while a little more than 100 passages only call for a healthy sense of fear.

That seems to indicate that we should live our life more without fear than with fear. We should be fearless without compromising those occasions when we should fear.

In other words, to fear and not to fear can and should be together. They need not be mutually exclusive to each other as long as we know the reasons for each of them. They can even happen at the same time, but obviously for their respective reasons that can arise also at the same time.

We need to fear because that is what is proper of a child to his father. There's always a healthy kind of fear involved in any relationship that is based on love and respect. It is the fear of not offending the other party. And this is much more so if the other party is superior to us. If the other party is God himself, then this filial fear is absolutely needed.

Besides, such fear can trigger a series of good effects. A passage from the Book of Proverbs affirms this. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (9,10) Pope St. Gregory the Great, in explaining the dynamism of  this filial fear, says:

"Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven."

With this fear of the Lord, we acknowledge we are creatures who are always dependent on God. This is what is called the 'poverty of spirit' that figures in one of the beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in the spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

We therefore would not want to be separated from God. It is the fear of losing God. Thus, this fear arouses in us as a keen desire to be with God, a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.

I would say that this filial fear of the Lord is what would lead us also not to be afraid of God when we are before his overwhelming majesty, power and wisdom, just as what Christ told his disciples when they saw him walking on the water (cfr Mt 14,27) and when he appeared to them after his resurrection. (cfr Mt 28,10)

There is obviously an organic link between this filial fear of the Lord and the fearlessness of one who is truly with God. We have to be wary of the possibility of reversing these two modes.

This can happen because instead of having the healthy fear of the Lord, we lose it instead, thinking we can be sufficient just by ourselves, and we are not anymore to sin. Sad to say, this scenario is now quite widespread.

And on the other hand, instead of not being afraid of  God who is always a Father to us, ever understanding and forgiving, we choose to be afraid of him because we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by his infinite powers, or because we are ashamed to return to him to ask for forgiveness after we have fallen.

This is a dangerous situation for us to be in. That's because when we are afraid of God and prefer to stay away from him, we make ourselves an easy prey to the temptations of the devil, the allurements of the world, and the tricks of our own personal weaknesses.

It's clear that we need to know how to handle fear. Yes, it is an emotion, but like any emotion, it has to be enlightened, trained and directed by our right reason, and ultimately by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

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