Fear is relational

What is fear?

I got a great question on this post. A friend asked me how I understood fear. He said I portrayed it as being the opposite of courage, and he wanted more. Well, I couldn’t just write a small comment because it was such an important question, so here’s two posts specifically about fear.

Photo by LWPrencipe. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Photo by LWPrencipe. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

Fear is what we feel when we perceive a specific threat to our well-being. The deep thought, whether conscious or unconscious, is “I’m in danger here!” The key point is that the threat doesn’t have to be real, only that we think that it is. The other point is that fear is in response to something specific. Having general concern is anxiety.

Lots of situations in life can cause us fear. You’re hiking and you hear a mountain lion. Your child is running toward the street. You’re walking down the roughest street in your city, and it’s getting dark.

In the Bible, fear is typically relational. That is, fear comes in response to another person threatening our well-being.

If we think about it, this makes sense. When we’re afraid we’ll bomb a test at school, what’s really at stake is that our parents, our friends, or our teachers will look down on us. When we’re afraid about how our parenting is perceived, it’s because we don’t want to be denigrated in the eyes of observers. When taking on a new project causes us to fear, it’s because we don’t want to be condemned by a certain person if we fail.

In light of this, it’s good for us to stop here and dig deeper into our fears. Here’s an exercise for you:

The next time you feel fear, ask God to show you who is behind the fear. Wait until you get a name, or a face, or an image of a person. Once you have that, you can start asking how this person is threatening you. Bear in mind, the other person might not be external. You may in fact be threatening yourself! (Note: If you find yourself fearing God in a debilitating way, I encourage you to talk to an emotionally safe spiritual friend, a supportive small group, or a spiritual director as soon as possible.)

In the next post, I’ll discuss how we can get out of this fear trap.

Question: What’s causing you fear in your life right now? Who do you think is behind that?

Leave a comment to continue the conversation.

If you enjoyed this post, sign up to get all my posts via e-mail.