Samuel Wells writes,
"Fear isn't itself good or bad. It's an emotion that identifies what we love. The quickest way to discover what or whom someone loves is to find out that they are afraid of. We fear because we don't want to lose what we love. We fear because we don't want to lose what we love. We fear intensely when we love intensely or when we think what or whom we love is in real danger. So a world without fear wouldn't be a good thing, because it wouldn't just be a world without danger - it would be without love." ~Be not Afraid: Facing Fear with Faith, xv
Fear can be a crippling emotion that drives us to despair but it can also lead us to revere the things or persons we should rightly honor. Fear is neither inherently good or evil in itself but points to the overarching foundation of our hearts. Mary and Joseph are told in the Gospels to not fear because there is great news for them. Isaiah reminds exiled Israel to not fear because God has redeemed them and that though they walk through the water and the fire, God is with them. Yet, we find fear used in a positive sense in the first proverb. Proverbs 1.7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.." How do we understand fear and the myriad ways it is used in the Bible?
1. Context - How is fear used in the specific passage we are looking it? Is it in a story about God's reminding his people of his presence? Or, does the biblical writer use it in a negative light concerning fear and call the people to trust the Lord amidst perilous circumstances. Also, when the Bible speaks to the characters in the text not to fear, who is telling the people not to fear (an angel, the Lord, Jesus, etc.).
2. Consequential Action - What kind of action follows the admonition to not fear or the use of fear in a specific passage. How does Jesus or God use fear in the Scripture to bear witness to their redemptive care for their people? The action that follows out of the context surrounding fear in a biblical passage is foundational for how we are to act.
3. Pastoral Sensitivity - Everyone fears someone or something. Let's not quick to make fear into a sin that can't be shaken. Freedom from crippling or paralyzing fear takes root when we identify the Christian life as a series of both habitual moral actions in both attitude and action alongside a healthy sense of weakness. Weakness is key to the Christian life because by laying forth our fears, failures, hopes, and hurts, we come to the foot of the cross, finding life through death. In doing this, we realize that our fellow brothers and sisters have walked down the road of fear, walk in fear, and will walk in fear too. The goal isn't to have a stiff upper lip and to go through life with a stoic attitude, but to live honestly knowing that forgiveness is not something that just happened 2,000 years ago but takes place today.