By David Hegg
There is much confusion about this thing we know as fear. In the run-up to the 9/11 remembrance we heard many declare that we should not live with fear. But if you think about it, that is not only foolish, but also impossible. Fear is everywhere, and that isn’t always a bad thing.
Fear as a concept comes in two basic flavors. First, fear operates in the arena of assessment. By that I mean that fear can be defined as rightly determining the nature of something and responding properly to it. Solomon, the wise King of ancient Israel, declared that the “fear of the Lord” is the starting place of all wisdom. By that he meant that God is to be recognized as He truly is, and revered and respected in such a way that our behavior is affected in a positive way. To “fear” God is to properly assess Him, and recognize that obedience to Him is always the best option. In the same way, we say that every good sailor fears the sea. He recognizes its power, its volatility, and its unconquerable nature and sails on it with the proper respect.
But usually we think of fear in a different way. In our lives fear primarily relates to the arena of challenges. Every day we face opposition. Some have become commonplace and ordinary while others lurk behind the curtain of uncertainty. We know they could emerge at any minute and it is this that heightens our sense of dread. Will the biopsy come back positive? Will an earthquake hit with great power in our neighborhood? Will our children be safe traveling across the state? Will the airplane engines keep working all the way to our destination? These and hundreds of other concerns lie in wait in the back of our minds and keep the possibility of fear on the desktop. And when the reality of cancer, or terrible car accidents, or violent crime invades our personal lives, fear becomes a very present challenge.
But the presence of fear is really not what we should be discussing. It is a moot point. We all live in some sort of fear. In this broken world where disease, accidents, crime, greed and tyranny seem always on the increase, fear surrounds us like the air we breathe. Consequently, it is not fear, but our response to it, that makes all the difference.
When challenges come up, fear will either make us shrink back, or step up. It’s that simple. The fact of fear is not as important as our response to it. When tragedy strikes, when devastation is on the horizon bringing with it the threat of despair, the big question is this: How will we respond? Will we wilt? Or will we be prepared to step up to the challenge, face fear with a radical determination to overcome, and move forward?
Why do some people panic while others act in courage? I suspect the answer lies in what we call perspective. Those who think first of what could happen to them as individuals will probably give in to their fear and retreat in panic. Self-centeredness has never produced monumental courage. History has proven that bravery in the face of overwhelming odds stems from the individual’s realization that the matter is much bigger than them. They are engaged in something much larger, much more important, and certainly much more valuable than their personal well-being and comfort. It is this perspective that propels ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds. It is this perspective that sends first responders into burning buildings. And it is this perspective that enables us to see trial as an opportunity to rise above the normal level of human endeavor to accomplish truly great things.
Our goal cannot be to live without fear. Nor should we try to get our kids to believe they’ll inherit a world without it. I wish we could guarantee that, but we know we can’t. Fear is here and always will be part of the human experience. What we can do is prepare to face it, pushing it aside in times that matter most in order to attempt the hard things for the right reasons. In times of tragedy we’ll face the decision either to act in courage or cowardice. And if we can escape the bonds of self-centeredness, we’ll make the right choice.
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident.“Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.