Have Fear But Do Not Be Afraid
Certain events in my life have given me a lot of insights about being afraid and fearing. It is important to note that there is a difference between being afraid and fearing. Thus, we are to “Have fear but do not be afraid.” Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear rather him who has the power to make both the soul and the body perish in Gehenna (Hell).” We must not be afraid of, nor fear human beings; we must fear God but not be afraid of him.
There is a significant difference between being afraid and fearing and I would like to say that being afraid is a manifestation of our fundamental instinct for self-preservation. It is a reaction to a threat to our life, the response to a real or perceived danger, whether this be the greatest danger of all, death, or particular dangers that threaten our security, health or psychosocial well-being. Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear rather him who has the power to make both the soul and the body perish in Gehenna (hell).” There is something of ours that nothing and no one in the world can truly take away from us or damage: For believers it is the immortal soul; for everyone it is the testimony of their own conscience.
Fear is quite different from being afraid. Fear in the strict sense ought to be associated with God. Hence, “The fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is a virtue we learn or ask for. The Psalmist says: “Come, my children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (34:12); being afraid, on the other hand, does not need to be learned at school; it overtakes us suddenly in the face of danger; the things themselves bring about our being afraid. Fear is one of the fruit of faith and love and it flows from our knowledge and admiration of God based on His awesomeness and immensity. This is the fear of offending our loving God and is often called “the beginning of wisdom” because it leads to making the right choices in life. Indeed it is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit! (cf. Isaiah 11:2).
What are you afraid of? Whom are you afraid of? If we can answer this question, I assure us we can enjoy life to the full. We are all afraid in varying degrees. Some of us are afraid of the future, some of us are afraid of making mistakes, some are afraid of dying, some are afraid of making huge amount of money, some are afraid of sicknesses and diseases, some are afraid of examinations and failure in businesses, some are afraid of standing up to be counted as Christians, some are afraid of God and interestingly, some are even afraid of themselves! Today we hear one of the greatest teachings of Jesus Christ: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
Handling our fears: it was Emerson who said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” Fear takes the place of trust in God. Why are we to trust God? We are to trust God because He knows us infinitely better than we know ourselves. Someone who knows us perfectly, up to the extent of knowing every hair on our head and their numbering (Matt. 10:30). Channel the energy of fear to trust and love God who cares for all our needs. So there is no need to be afraid.
Fr. John-Mary Atep