What is your greatest fear?
I have many. I fear the plane crashing. Loved ones dying. Clustered holes, also known as trypophobia. But more than that, I’m afraid of what people think of me.
What if I’m too quiet, that they think I’m antisocial? What if I’m too noisy, that people think I’m weird? What if I appear not smart enough … Or worse – if I appear smarter than I feel I am, that people will see through my façade and realise it’s all a sham?
Those around me tell me that there’s nothing to fear of others – people are human, I shouldn’t let them take control over me. While this is what my head knows, it is not what my heart believes.
In the real world, impressions count. A good first impression makes or breaks an interview. Or the opportunity to make a new friend.
I’ve also seen how my first impressions of people have impacted my interactions with them. The dentist I trusted because her patience put me at ease. The people at Church who were warm and inclusive, but not overwhelmingly friendly – and have since become my close friends. The ex-colleague I never talked to, because she seemed aloof and talked only to those in her clique.
Affirmation in and of itself is not undesirable, but it is the craving for affirmation that leads us to become preoccupied with people-pleasing, a result of our fear of Man.
My emphasis on impressions accounts for my desire to people-please – I need to make up for my perceived inadequacies. I’m not a trained writer – but I will prove that despite this, I am competent.
As an introvert, I’m not outgoing by nature – but with just the right amount of friendliness, I can be social without being intimidating. I may have messed this certain thing up in the past, but with enough willpower, I will make up for it now.
Affirmation in and of itself is not undesirable, but it is the craving for affirmation that leads us to become preoccupied with people-pleasing, a result of our fear of Man. This makes us enslaved to the opinions others have of us – we are afraid to disappoint those whose approval we crave.
CAN FEAR BE DESIRABLE?
Having said that, it is counterintuitive to believe fear can be a desirable thing – and I’m not referring to the fear that keeps us away from danger, though this has its functions too.
I’m referring to the fear of God – which isn’t the same as being afraid of Him. Instead, this is a reverent fear – it refers to wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33) that leads to turning away from evil (Proverbs 16:6, Job 28:28).
The rewards for fearing the Lord include the knowledge of Him (Proverbs 2:5), along with riches, honour (Proverbs 22:4) and life (Proverbs 14:27, 19:23). Unlike the fear of Man which leaves us paralysed in fear, trusting the Lord brings safety (Proverbs 29:25).
Being afraid that God will punish us for failing to be good enough shows that God’s love has yet to be perfected in us.
That being said, while I know this in theory, I tend to have the same fear of God in the way that I fear Man. Instead of standing in holy, reverent fear of God, more often than I’d like, I’m afraid that God doesn’t love me. That He doesn’t think I’m thankful enough. Patient enough. Obedient enough.
I’m afraid that I’m not nice enough to deserve God’s love. How can I even stand in awe of God’s glory if I’m afraid to approach Him?
Yet, this is not how the Bible tells us to approach God – 1 John 4:16-19 does not deny that God is One who judges. Yet, in the same vein, we are also told that as people who trust in Jesus, we have nothing to fear – as a result of God’s love, He is determined to save us and redeem us from this judgment.
Hence, being afraid that God will punish us for failing to be good enough shows that God’s love has yet to be perfected in us (1 John 4:18).
In “The Pleasures of God”, John Piper describes the fear of the Lord as seeking refuge in the middle of a terrible storm. Yet, despite having found refuge, the feeling of fear has not disappeared. While the element of threat has dissipated, the awe and wonder that the observer holds at the storm has not. Even though the observer is safe, he is now able to watch the storm with a “trembling pleasure.”
Knowing the chasm that exists between what I intellectually know with what my heart doesn’t feel, I wonder what hope there is for me – given that I struggle to reconcile the two.
As God is the One who stands in the furnace with us (Daniel 3:24, 25) who sent His Son to the Cross for us, and who has given us the spirit of Sonship (Romans 8:15) if we trust in Him, we can give our fears to Him.
There is no quick fix to learning not to be afraid of God – instead, we can only seek to grow in our knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18). In doing so, we will grow to realise that God is one who is worthy of reverence, our worship and love.