The first of the two good kinds of fear is prudence. Prudence is the careful consideration of likely consequences. It is using our best judgment to consider various consequences and outcomes in order to act and prepare accordingly. It is the careful managing of resources so as to provide for the future. Essentially, prudence is the kind of good fear that has us lock our doors at night and provide for the safety and security of our loved ones, both short-term and long-term. It is the kind of good fear that promotes things like disaster preparedness. In fact, it is prudence that leads the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to encourage all U.S. citizens to maintain at least a basic three-day supply of drinking water, food, fuel and supplies.
Yes, prudence is a good kind of fear that says to us the following:
- “Pray as though it’s all up to God but work as though it’s all up to you.”
- “Hope and work for the best but prepare for the worst.”
- “Trust in God but tie up your horse.”
The second of the two good kinds of fear is the “fear” of the Lord God Almighty. This is the “fear” of awe-struck wonder at the deep mystery of nature, the universe, and the One Spirit at the heart of it all. It is the overwhelming grace and inner peace that flows from an awareness of the Oneness of all that is, both seen and unseen. It is the “fearful” reverence for what the Native Americans call the Great Spirit — an awe and reverence that leads to insight, understanding and wisdom. As it says in the biblical Book of Psalms, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10a). It also says in the biblical Book of Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).
This “fear of the Lord” is what leads us to be peacemakers in our lives and our world, freeing us from all forms of tribalism, clannishness and cliquishness for the glory of God and the benefit of all. This “fear of the Lord” is what leads us to be advocates for universal equality, fairness, justice and truth. Simply put, it is what leads us to transcend all divisions — ethnicity, culture, religion, politics, social status, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and so on — in order for us to realize and manifest a truly universal human community.
Acknowledging the Great Spirit and Grand Architect at the heart of everything, we are free to “practice” (as it says in Psalm 111:10) the fear of the Lord. And this practicing the fear of the Holy One means we recognize that there is truly one humanity, one world, one love, one heart, One Eternal Spirit.
It also means that we work in our daily lives to help manifest this all-inclusive reality. As citizens of the U.S.A., we are especially blessed to live in the most universal of all the countries on Earth. It’s far from perfect, and we always need to be advocating for making it better, but we are nonetheless the most diverse country in the world. God has blessed us Americans with the task of modeling and defending the idea of a universal human society. We are blessed with the sacred task of advancing greater and greater unity in diversity — e pluribus unum.
As Christians, through our faith and spiritual lives we seek to promote a truly universal human society. Through our daily interactions with others we seek to profess and share the all-encompassing kingdom of God that our Lord Jesus declared and embodied. God has given to us Christians the good news of the one universal kingdom of God’s truth and grace, revealed through our Lord Jesus Christ, for us to share with everyone. As it says in Ephesians chapter 2…
“He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” – (Ephesians 2:15-22)
This brings us to the one bad kind of fear. It is the fear that we see in the church group that pickets the funerals of servicemen and servicewomen, where they carry signs that say “God hates fags” and so on. It is the fear that incited the brutal attack on the Pakistani girl, Malala Yousufzai, who advocates for the education of women in her country. It is the fear that fuels hatred of all who are different from us, leading to the evil desire for one ethnic group to rule them all, or one religion to rule them all, or one political party to rule them all, etc. It is racism, religionism, sexism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and any other harmful “ism” you can think of.
We have witnessed this bad kind of fear in 2012, and we have witnessed the two good kinds of fear as well. We have certainly seen racism and all the other harmful “isms” rear their ugly heads in 2012, but we have also seen the two good kinds of fear. We have seen both the balanced hand of prudence and the unifying reverence of “the fear of the Lord.”
As we look toward 2013, may the two good fears guide us into the future. As prudence would demand, may we “Trust in God but tie up our horse” for our households, community, nation and world. And, as the unifying “fear” of the Lord would command, may we follow Jesus by being agents of unity in diversity for the sake of all people everywhere.
Happy New Year to all of you!!!