Monday, November 24, 2008

The Opposite of Fear is . . .

Fear is the other four-letter word that begins with the letter 'F.' Compared to the other infamous word, the word 'fear' is more acceptably used in books as it is considered less vulgar. It does not soil the English language terribly. The Greeks has a word for it from where we derive the word: 'phobia.' Claustrophobia refers to a fear of being in a confined space. xenophobia is an irrational fear of strangers. Social-phobia is a general term for people afraid of being criticized in public. Homo-phobia is a term generally used to label people who are scared of being associated with homosexuals. If one is frightened of a particular animal or creature, one simply attach a prefix to phobia. For example, Arachnophobia is a term for fear of spiders. Musophobia is a fear of rodents such as mice or rats. Technophobia is used on people who are afraid of advanced technology while Cyberphobia is a term used for those who are paranoid over the Internet. A full list of different kinds of phobias can be found here. I counted a total of 659 different phobias on the list! Some of the fears border on the ridiculous as well. The fear of thinking is Phronemophobia makes me wonder how that can ever happen? How can anyone not think at all? Others seem to be interesting, like Hamartophobia which is a fear of sinning. This is one fear which may be of interest to the pious saints.

Is it love?
Some people say that the opposite of fear is love. They argue that a spiritual path driven by fear is inferior compared to one that is motivated by love. I agree that love cannot be forced but willingly given. We must not presume that the opposite of fear is love. I know that 1 John 4:18 tells us:
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
This verse does not conclusively tell us that the opposite of fear is love. No! This verse basically says that true love is without any fear. If love is likened to a giant cream cake, fear will be the smudges wiped carelessly on the lovely creation. Making fear the opposite of love gives fear too much credit. In the same way, we can misinterpret the meaning of sin. Sin is not a matter of doing right or wrong. Sin is essentially 'missing the mark.' The opposite of 'missing the mark' is 'hitting the target.' We cannot see sin as the target itself. John Cassian in his Conferences writes perceptibly about the spiritual life by distinguishing the goal (scopos) and the end (telos). The 'scopos' is hitting the target like an archer that hits the bulls-eye. However, the 'telos' is something better. It is the prize of hitting the mark. Using similar logic, the opposite of fear is not love, for love is the ultimate union with God. The opposite of fear is something more like the 'scopos' rather than the 'telos.'

Fear draws in punishment
A phobia-led kind of love is not perfect love. It is driven by external circumstances rather than internal. Phobia-driven love is done out of a lack of options instead of willingly given up DESPITE one's list of options. For instance, if a man forces a woman to marry him, failing which he threatens to reveal her dark secrets, that is not love. That is coercion. In the law courts, some testimonies can be nullified if it is found out that they were given under external duress. The Police or investigation teams are expected to ensure fair treatment of all persons in their custody.

A hint at the understanding of fear is punishment. If one does not do this, there are consequences to bear. This kind of cause-effect relationship bears testimony of a soul marred in sin. Christ came to offer all mankind a way out of such a spiritual quagmire. In spite of Jesus's secure position in heaven, he willingly gave them all up to come down to earth. In spite of Jesus's bountiful possessions in the heavenly realms, he willingly surrendered all for the sake of becoming poor and lived among us. Jesus chose to take upon human flesh, along with all the limitations instead of exercising his deity to the full. Here we encounter the age-old theological problem. Is Jesus fully human or fully divine when he is on earth? Allow me to make a brief detour from the fear topic to touch a little on this theology. It is important.

Q: Did Jesus give up his divinity and exchanged it for humanity?
If we were to say yes, then when Jesus is incarnated as a human being, he is not divine anymore. If we were to say no, we may go to the other position in which Jesus is never human in the first place. The evangelical position is that Jesus is BOTH human and divine, at the same time. What makes Jesus's incarnation on earth so amazing is that he chose to limit his own divine powers WILLINGLY. That is love. He was not driven by fear, but he is fully conscious of the consequences of fear. Hence, he is most qualified to tell:

- the disciples: "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." (Matthew 14:27)

Subsequently, Jesus rebukes the disciples of their little faith due to their folly of falling into fear. The disciples did not truly believe that Jesus is divine, and when Jesus walked on water, they thought that he was a ghost. Peter, who was also walking on water toward Jesus was doing ok, until he starts to look at the looming winds and begins to sink. Jesus reprimands Peter for his lack of faith (Matt 14:31). Fear is essentially due to a lack of faith. The opposite of fear is faith. Pure love is without fear. Loving God is one that is done in faith, which is without fear.

What then do we mean by the fear of God?
This is another big theological question. The fear of God is not 'phobia' but the agony of not being perfect enough for God. Like a mother who bakes a special chocolate cake for her child. She puts in her best efforts and ingredients in order to make that cake as perfect as possible. Any 'fears' is out of not being able to do her best, rather than a phobia of being punished.
  • Selfish fear puts oneself in the center of attention. Fear of God let God be the center.
  • Selfish fear is afraid of being punished. Fear of God yearns to be as perfect as possible.
  • Selfish fear seeks to protect and defend one's possessions or territories. Fear of God renders property and possessions as secondary to the love of God.
  • Selfish fear is worried of the future. Fear of God anticipates a bright coming of the Kingdom.
  • Selfish fear looks back with regret. Fear of God reflects with thanksgiving and gratitude.
  • Selfish fear agonizes over present uncertainties. Fear of God reflects confidence in God's timely presence at any moment.

Fear can be a very potent weapon. Under the hands of the unscrupulous, a matchstick of fear, struck wickedly by a tiny evil stroke, sparks a deadly flame. Driven by the winds of uncertainty and the storms of gloom, the flame consumes weak hearts and inflict deep hurts. It easily spreads wildfires that burns and feeds upon anything and everything. An angry fire cannot be easily soothe. It seeks to consume until everything is destroyed, including itself. It can burn uncontrollably the positive expectations of many. It can snuff out any small glimmers of hopes.

A Five-Letter Word
Deep faith in God begets a first step against fear. It is a formidable defense against depression and anxiety. What then is the opposite of fear? It is faith. Actually, the opposite of fear is faith, which has elements of courage, fearlessness and positive outlook. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith, one easily gets distracted by the unnecessary and loses direction and focus. Interestingly, we read of the many instances in Scripture when Jesus or the angels from heaven appear. Their first words are often: "Do not fear." We read that when Peter asked to walk to Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus invited Peter to do so. Peter was doing very well until his eyes shifted from Jesus to the winds around him. He then started to sink.
Matt. 14:30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Matt. 14:31 Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and *said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Thus the opposite of fear is 'have faith in God.' Faith in God leads us on the path of faith-hope-love, of which the greates of all is love. Thus, the opposite of fear is not another four letter word. It is instead a five-letter word: F.A.I.T.H.


No comments:

Latest Posts