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What is Fear?

Posted by Daniel Edwards on January 13, 2009

(This is my second post in a series I am doing on fear. I apologize that it has taken me so long to get this post written, but the topic ended up being more complex than I first imagined.)
New Post Series on Fear

This may seem like a ridiculous question to ask on the surface, but I feel that as I enter any discussion it is good to first have the terms clearly laid out.

Now, some people, if asked what fear is, might say something like, “that feeling in my stomach when I see someone walking across a tightrope,” or “the tightness in my chest when I wake up from a nightmare.” The truth is, none of us really wonder what fear is. It’s a common emotion that everyone feels at one time or another.

However, this leads us to think little about fear and, therefore, I think it would be helpful to analyze exactly what fear is first as laid out in the Bible, and secondly, as we perceive it in our culture today. So first, what is fear in general as laid out in the Bible?

Fear in the Bible

When the word fear is used in the Bible, it generally is used having one of two meanings. The first use of fear we see in the Bible is positive and denotes reverence or deep respect for someone, usually God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10;Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10) This is a fear that every Christian should have and is a direct result of understanding the holiness and majesty and utmost awesomeness of God.

The second form of fear that is in the Bible is, in a sense, the opposite of the first kind. This is the fear that I will mainly be focusing on, the emotion that results from worry or is invoked by something that is perceived as alarming or unnerving. It is the opposite of the former in that we are commanded not to have this kind of fear (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:1-3) and to have the other. In fact when we fear God in the right way we will not have this fear (Matthew 10:28).

This fear is expressed in different levels throughout the Bible (worry, anxiety, dismay), but it is always expressed in a negative sense.

Fear in Society

Though the definition for the fear we see in society is not different than that of the Bible, it manifests itself in unique ways in this present age. For instance, some people enjoy being scared by movies, books or things such as haunted houses. We see fear as something that entertains or serves us, a feeling that is even necessary or something with which to control. It is simply assumed. Worry is something that we work through and expect in many instances and anxiety is a given. In fact, even in scientific communities, fear is seen as something that protects us as in the “fight or flight” options (I intend to blog further on this more in the future).

But what it all comes down to is that in our society and in the world today, fear is not seen as a problem, and as I said before, something that is not even considered by most. This is what I want to address with this series. I want to look at what fear is and how to deal with it from a Biblical framework. I hope these forthcoming posts will spark thought and hopefully encourage other Christians to think about fear and handle it in their lives.

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2 Responses to “What is Fear?”

  1. Mollie said

    Many of us – myself included, I’m sure – don’t realize how much we cripple ourselves and our ability to serve simply because of fear. I hope these posts lead to greater faith and service for all who read them — Soli Deo gloria!

  2. Susan Ellison said

    Daniel, this is a topic well worth pursuing as general fear has always and will always be with mankind. In our stressed-out world, we see fear manifested by both physical and emotional symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, ulcers, rashes, hives, etc. I believe that statistics on prescription medicines indicate that anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs are the most widely prescribed by doctors in America today. Now, some of these are necessary for persons with chemical imbalances, however, I would say that many are prescribed simply for trying to dampen natural reactions to life’s issues. How would we ever know that we are sin-filled, totally depraved wretches if we are mind-numbed by drugs-legal or illegal (or other sorts of things such as video games, hours of watching movies or television, busyness of schedules, preoccupation with consumerism and materialism, workaholism, etc.) that bring us to our knees in sorrow and remorse that the Holy Spirit’s convictions bring upon us?This kind of fear is good…this fear is the beginning of wisdom. This is Godly fear-fear for our souls’ destinations and fear of God. The other kind of fear can be detrimental to moving in any direction towards advancing Christ’s kingdom. Consumed with worry, fretting, and doubting ties our hands (literally, our minds) that disable us to the point that we are self-absorbed and not able to focus on others, even our God.This is a series with great impact today. May God bless it and you with His grace.

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