As we reconstruct our faith, I believe it is essential to spend some time with authentic fear and understand how it can work against us as we seek to evolve and grow spiritually through reconstruction. Let’s look at two misunderstood verses that deal with fear.
When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.
In this verse, the word fear is translated from the Hebrew word, yare’. The word refers to a reverence, awe, drawing near to, astonished by, respect for, or an inspiring object. The book of Ecclesiastes is written to instruct a younger crowd about what is profoundly important in life. It is not a sermon meant to belittle. It’s an expression of joy from one who has experienced it for himself!
The fear of God here includes all the graces of the Spirit, and the exercise of them; reverence of God, love to him, faith in him, and in his Son Jesus Christ; hope of eternal life from him. The actual author of Ecclesiastes is unknown, but the superscription in Chapter 1:1 attributes the book to Qohelet (commonly translated preacher, Greek ekklēsiastēs), who is identified as the son of David, king in Jerusalem, words commonly reserved for King Solomon. However, I believe this is a prophetic reference to Jesus.
One of my clients told me about her childhood memories of her stepfather. In her words, he was just horrible. When I asked her why, she responded, when he first came into our lives, he was kind and gentle. He was a pastor, and he seemed to really love us. His wife had left him, and they had no children together. He embraced her and her brother and sister as his very own. Things were great for a while. Because of his divorce, he was forced out of the ministry. After that, he became angry and bitter. We were an annoyance to him. At times it seemed like he was just watching and waiting for us to do something bad so he could yell at us. He started drinking heavily, and to be honest, we were all afraid of him.
As believers, many of us come from similar childhoods. As a result, many of us saw God as a mean stepfather just waiting for us to mess up so he could punish or smite us. Sadly, many preachers have portrayed God this same way through the centuries. They teach that abused women should suck it up and honor their husbands by staying and taking their lumps to glorify God. They declare without apology that any natural disaster is God’s way of punishing the world. They portray God as a merciless taskmaster, who has a plan for our lives – to somehow use us in obedience to his will — but against our own will, and we must fear him.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes paints a vastly different picture. Here we see that God is one to be revered and enjoyed. God looks and acts just like Jesus. Jesus was not wrathful and vengeful. He was not lurking to see who would screw up next. He didn’t walk around with a yardstick to smack the knuckles of those who just couldn’t measure up like an old schoolmarm.
Jesus said, The Father and I are one. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.
Notice Jesus never described himself as wrathful and a murderer of his own creation. God is not that way either. I know what you are thinking, Well, what about all those Old Testament stories that clearly display God as wrathful? I’m glad you asked.
Part of reconstruction is learning to see the Bible as literature. It is filled with stories, poetry, history, and prophecy. For centuries, the Hebrews were taught and believed that one day God was going to settle business with all their enemies…much like the way Michael Corleone took out the heads of the five families in The Godfather. Even those who walked with Jesus while he was on earth were waiting for him to take vengeance on their enemies and establish a government where he is in charge and protects only God’s chosen. Enter the MAGA crowd.
Much of the Old Testament is written about war. Sometimes God’s people won and sometimes they didn’t. Prophets like Isaiah wrote about the coming day of the Lord, when he would come in power and slay everyone who gets in his way. Most of us have heard the words, “Just wait till your father gets home!” This was the mindset of the ancients as they waited for God the Father to come home to earth and punish the evil doers with his cosmic belt. According to tradition, the prophets maintained a position on the wall of the temple, from where they would receive a word from the Lord for his people. Then they would tell a herald, who would take that word to the people preamble by a, thus saith the Lord.
I spent some time in the Charismatic/Third Wave movement about twenty years ago. I was introduced to speaking in tongues, giving someone a word of knowledge, and praying over people as they dropped to the floor. I attended monthly pastor’s meetings with the charismatic pastors from all over the city. I met some amazing people there. At every meeting someone would come to me afterward and tell me that God has given me a word for you! It was usually along the lines of my church growing, my ministry expanding, or that God was about to unleash financial blessings on me. In time, I was doing the same thing in my Southern Baptist church, to the shock of my congregation. This was my very first pastorate. Those precious people loved me right through my charismatic phase. A lesser group would have run me out of town with pitchforks!
My point is that there were so many words from God to me and from me that it was becoming ridiculous. Prophecy was basically reassuring people with what they wanted to hear. I was good at reading people and was almost always right on the money. Almost. Years ago, someone said that fellow Wisconsin native and psychic, Jeane Dixon, must be from God. She’s correct 90% of the time! I prefer to think that 100% correctness would better qualify her for that notoriety.
The ancient prophets possibly operated in the same manner. You want war? God says it is coming! He is going to smite all his enemies! Afterwards, he will prosper his chosen people. You will find your true love. You will come into a lot of wealth. If we take these prophesies literally, we place ourselves in a precarious position. We use our words to instill fear in others.
The second part of the verse uses the phrase, and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. If we are afraid of God, words like keep or obey seem to conclude with an unwritten or else! Jesus gave us this commandment, Love God, love others. He called this the greatest commandment of all. The word duty is not even found in the Hebrew text. It was added later. The Hebrew literally reads this is the whole of man. Following Jesus is not about obedience and duty. By loving God and loving others, we become whole and peaceful.
We never have to be afraid of God, for any reason, at any time whatsoever! Want to see what God is like? Look at Jesus. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us to have no fear 365 times. One reminder for every day of the calendar year! If fear is the driving force of your faith, I encourage you to take a closer look at that and revisit the source those beliefs. Fear creates panic, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, agoraphobia (fear of leaving your house), and covers your life with stifling uncertainty.
On the cross, Jesus absorbed our worst fears and anxieties. We no longer need to live afraid! Isaiah 43:1 says, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. God beckons us not to fear or worry. Fear and worry decrease our hope and limit our victories. Let’s examine our second text on that note.
2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
This verse indicates that fear is a spirit that does not come from God. This spirit is a normal, natural flight response to a danger in our surroundings. … It intends to keep you from fulfilling the destiny that God has on your life; from living a joyful, spirit led existence where you give to others out of the overflow of love in your own life. The Greek word translated fear is deilia, meaning cowardice. Picture the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. He was nervous, anxious, and the smallest thing would cause him to explode with fear. Also, recall Cadet Hooks in the movie, Police Academy. You will not see a better (or more humorous) portrayal of cowardice and timidity.
This cowardice or timidity that deilia describes is not from God. This type of fear originates in our minds. My wife Laura loves to watch crime drama on television. Sometimes the perpetrator steps out of a shadow and grabs the victim’s mouth so they can’t scream. He then ties them up with duct tape and throws them in the back of his van or in his trunk. Because of this visual exposure, she is extremely cautious when she is out by herself. She parks under a well-lit area as close to the store as she can get. Why? So that no one can jump out of a van and kidnap her! She is afraid because of the images she has seen on television. Fear causes these images to be stored in our subconscious mind. But there’s more…
Fear is one of the most visceral emotional reactions you can have, so there must be a clear reaction in the brain when you get scared. Fear originates in a tiny part of the brain called the amygdala. One of the amygdala’s functions is to connect emotions with memories. A study at Cambridge University looked at the brains of ten people who were afraid of spiders—and we’re not talking mild heebie-jeebies, but certifiable DSM-diagnosed arachnophobia. A spider is probably the absolute worst thing they could see while lying in a dark brain scanner. Can you guess what the researchers did next? That’s right, they showed them spiders while lying in a dark brain scanner. Unsurprisingly, their brains reacted, and were compared to the brains of people who were not afraid of spiders. The reactions appeared as a tiny black dot – the amygdala. The picture on the brain scan is insightful. On the fearful brain scans, the amygdala is a tiny speck surrounded by the open space of the brain. It makes you think that fear is not as big and bad as we think.
Those who were not afraid of spiders had no reaction in the amygdala. You could be one of those fearless few. Remember that fear can be a good thing. Those without fear can run the risk of serious injury or other kinds of trouble. I once had a neighbor who was without fear. In the time that I knew him, he had been stabbed, shot, and is now in prison. Fear may have actually helped him change the course of his journey.
The bottom line is this: Don’t fear fear! Instead, use the brain that God gave you to increase your knowledge and understanding of the divine source so that you can exhibit power, love, and a sound mind. James 1:8 points out that not having a sound mind causes mental instability.
You have deconstructed your faith system. You are now trying to rebuild or reconstruct your faith by obtaining better, updated information. I want you to know, once and for all, that God is not mad at you. He does not hate you. He is not disappointed in you. He is not going to destroy you or toss you into a lake of fire.
Reconstruct your faith on this sure foundation: as far as you and God are concerned, you have nothing or no one to be afraid of. God is love…and He loves you!