Fear Hurting, Not Being Hurt
A Sermon by Rev. J. Clark Echols, Jr.
“He who is mighty has done great things….And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Luke 1: 49,50
What are you afraid of? The dark? Walking down a dark street at night? What your future will be? That you will die in a horrible way? Do you fear the loss of honor and reputation, or the loss of your material possessions? These are fears perhaps shared by us all. But there is another class of fear that is represented in the Word by the expression “fear of God.” Do you fear for your eternal welfare? That you might not be saved, made fit for heaven? Do you fear the loss of goodness and truth? Do you fear hurting someone you love?
So there are types of fear. We are not going to talk about physical fear, say of the dark. While real, the psychology involved is beyond our scope here. There are two kinds of spiritual fear. One is the merely external fear that is based on an evil selfishness. It is inflamed by evil spirits and causes an anxiety and worry about what is, or may, happen to one’s self. The other is an internal fear that is based on a good regard for the Lord and others. It is vital that we learn to identify them two kinds of fear, so that we may rise above selfishness, and achieve the fearless life the Lord also promises.
Why does the Lord ask us to fear Him? A fundamental teaching of the New Church is that God only loves. He never punishes or condemns. The Lord does not punish or cause tragedies to those who sin. He does not want a relationship with us based on the fear that He will send us to hell if we don’t obey. In fact, the Writings for the New Church were given, in part, precisely to counter the teaching that we are to be afraid of a vengeful Father.
Now, there is a wonderful, extensive psychological study of fear in the Writings for the New Church. Their most important point is that authentic love exists only when there is also a fear of harming what is loved (see Apocalypse Revealed n.527). Just as there are kinds of love (for a friend, a spouse, a place or a pet), so there are kinds of fear. It is vital to our spiritual growth that we know, understand, and so mold our behavior according to our appreciation of the distinction among the variety of fears we can feel. If you have a love for your life on earth, you will fear losing it. If you fear coming under the thumb of someone, you will be strongly motivated to fend for yourself in life. If you love what you have found in the Word, then you will fear violating it. The Writings tell us how this fear of the loss of goodness can “torment the conscience” as the whole operation of the conscience begins from the fear of the results of trespassing the law. And, as Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
People who are in the process of regeneration, the Writings tell us, are much less bothered by external fears. It is not that they are less afraid of the dark, or of being mugged, of losing their good reputation, or even of losing their life. It is just that spiritually minded people do not let these fears prevent them from living naturally full and spiritually vibrant lives. The Writings say that the kind of fear we are discussing here is the “aversion to whatever endeavors to destroy” what one loves. So, if we have a great fear of losing our earthly honor or our material wealth that is an indication of what we love the most. Consider this: as you look back on your day, what did you argue about? What upset you the most? What did you defend? Whatever is was, it is something you love. This warning goes out to us all: Do not fear the loss even of your life; fear rather the loss of your relationship with the Lord, and the loss of heaven.
This is the internal meaning of the warning in Deuteronomy that the people were to “walk after Jehovah your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4) Here is a list of the keys to a fearless life! The first is follow the Lord. I love the image of walking behind the Lord, and the powerful image from the carol of good King Wenceslaus. Like the servant, when we follow the Lord, do just what He commands, listen to His voice in our heads, be His servant and not beholden to some other, then when we go out into the cold, dark, wintry night of temptations’ battles, we will be able to put our feet into His footprints dinted in the snow, warmed by His love, and so nurturing and protecting us.
The fear of God spoken of in the Word represents our worship and adoration of the Lord. The teaching is that the greater our love of the Lord and His commandments, the greater will be our fear. But this fear is nothing like that fear of a merely natural, materialistic or unbelieving person. His fear is that he will be hurt somehow. The person who fears the Lord, fears hurting Him! This is called “holy fear,” which results from a “wonder and longing for what is Divine”, and from our love. Love that is devoid of sacred fear is like unseasoned food. That is like a life that has enough stimulus and comforts, but no food for the soul. It is doing good deeds only from habit or obligation, missing the blessing that happens as the deed is done. The fear that is part of love is a fear of injuring the Lord in any way, or of injuring the neighbor in any way. (See Heavenly Secrets n.3718) When we feel, think, say or do something that serves the Lord’s kingdom or another person, and we feel the joy of giving, and we delight in the result, we are savoring life, living it as the Lord intended we should live it.
Spiritual fear, then, is called an internal fear; a concern for our salvation, that we might perish spiritually; or a fear that we may go against our conscience. It is a feeling that is a warning that evil spirits are near. The spirits of hell love to suggest we do something that is against our conscience–a conscience provided by the presence of the angels. Evil spirits take advantage of our physical fears, and seek to blind us to the spiritual consequences of our actions or inaction. It is diabolical spirits who insert the thought of self-preservation, or even just self service, or maintaining the status quo, or concern for our comfort, and so seek to turn us from following the Lord. This holy fear “chiefly affects the spirit, that is the internal man and its conscience.” (Heavenly Secrets n. 3718)
The quality of holy fear varies greatly among people, just as love does. But we do know that children do not have holy fear. The Children of Israel didn’t have it either. We all begin life believing that the Lord is the cause of everything, including evil. Therefore, we had better fear going against Him or we will be in trouble. Children fear punishments and desire rewards. It was the same with the Israelites in the Old Testament. All they knew was that God punished those who broke the law. They feared that punishment, and so obeyed; at least some of the time! Children obey from a fear of punishment; at least some of the time! But here is the limitation to this kind of fear: it results only in forced obedience, and not love. Such an external fear will quickly lose its power if something more attractive than the punishment comes along. Again, this is not the relationship with His creation that the Lord designed.
It is important to note that the initial fear of punishment and desire for reward is a universal condition of all humans and has its positive psychological and spiritual use. Rewards can teach how obedience ends well, and they are a powerful sign of love. Punishments can teach how disobedience ends in grief, and they are a powerful sign of how bad desires hurt. This beginning and external kind of fear of punishment will eventually become holy fear in the adult who is striving to love and so obey his Lord. “Fear must come before love in order that in love there may be holy fear.” (Heavenly Secrets n.6997) For the reality of God’s unconditional love will gradually replace the natural fear. This is the way He designed it to progress.
As we learn what is it to fear God, we will first have that same fear we had towards our parents: we fear we will displease Him or hurt Him. Now, our spiritual development doesn’t come by changing this emotion. Rather, the quality of our fear of God will change in accordance with our development. Our fear is an indicator, and a measure, of our state of regeneration. Thus the state or kind of fear we have will be in agreement with the state or kind of love we have for the Lord and the neighbor. As our love develops, our holy fear of hurting what is good and true develops. And in turn, the holy fear involved in our love makes the love authentic, powerful and meaningful. “Without this fear, love is insipid and superficial, a matter of thought only and not of the will.” (Divine Providence n.140) It really wouldn’t be love at all, but only a shadow of it.
What is marvelous in the teachings of the Writings about holy fear is that we’re assured that the greater our love for the Lord, the greater will be our fear of injuring that love, until, eventually, our love for Him has developed to the point where we no longer feel the fear at all. As our love develops, we are promised, the fear that began as an aversion to what might hurt the Lord and our neighbor, becomes a positive “desire to desist from doing evil from an affection for goodness.” (Heavenly Secrets n.7280)
It is encouraging to hear the promise that while we begin worshiping the Lord from a fear of hell, we achieve the spiritual fear of the loss of our faith and love. “The more faith there is in the worship, and especially the more there is of love, the less there is of fear.” (Heavenly Secrets n.2826) There will be fear, holy fear, but “holy fear is not so much the fear of hell and damnation, as it is [a fear] of doing or thinking anything against the Lord and against the neighbor, and thus anything against the goodness of love or the truth of faith.” (lbid.)
As we go along the path of holy fear, we are promised, even this fear will pass from our consciousness as we are regenerated by the Lord and as we become more and more confident in our ability to refrain from hurting the Lord and our neighbor. In fact, the more we are in a state of love to the Lord, and so love to obey Him, the more will that “dread and terror [of damnation] disappear” and be replaced with a true reverence for the Lord; a respect for His love and wisdom. It is a hard and joyless life that is run by a, perhaps unconscious, fear of failure, damnation and hell. The nature of our fear must come to our consciousness so that we may confront the evil spirits, and bring the power of the Lord’s love to bear upon our living. The Lord offers us a confidence in our salvation which dramatically impacts our external life because, being less concerned with earthly things than we are with heavenly things, we will not be so torn with natural fears. The hells will have less to hold on to in our spirits.
So it is that, while the Word tells us to fear God, at the same time it promises us a future in which we won’t have any terror of hurting Him. We probably began life fearing being hurt; but we end fearing hurting Him and our neighbor. We have to begin fearing hell, indeed, being terrified of it. But soon that fear will be replaced with a confidence that the Lord is so working for us that our spiritual welfare is assured. From merely natural we become spiritual. Our natural fears are gone.
Jesus’ was talking about this merely natural fear when He said: “Seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:31,32) “Fear not” the Lord said through Isaiah, “for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine….Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43:1,5) “Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from that time, and declared it? You are my witnesses: Is there a god besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:8)
As we make the Lord our rock–our truth–as we fear the Lord our God and serve Him–we will ascend to that holy fear of the Lord that brings us into His presence. We will know that He is our God and that nothing else is more important. We will so want to serve Him that we will forever fear injuring the goodness and truth wherever we find it: in His Word, in other people; even in ourselves. We will fear less being hurt; and fear more hurting the Lord. All our thoughts, words, desires and actions will be produce by an assurance that the Lord loves us, and cares for us. We will have no fear of anything this life can bring to us. We will gladly give up a life that is drawing us towards hell, knowing that its death will give us the true life–the life of joy that Jesus promised. And we shall come to that blessed state prophesied by Zacharias at the birth of his son John the Baptist: [it shall be granted] that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74,75)
Deuteronomy 13: 1-5
1 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
Arcana Caelestia n.3718
In general there are two kinds of fear - fear that is not inspired by holiness, and fear that is inspired by it. Fear that is not inspired by holiness fills those who are evil, whereas fear that is inspired by it fills those who are good. The latter kind of fear is called holy fear and is that which accompanies reverential awe of the Divine and also love. Love devoid of holy fear is like something insipid, or like food that has no salt in it and so no flavor, whereas love accompanied by fear is like food that is salted but does not taste of salt. The fear that goes with love is a fear lest harm is done to the Lord in any way, or to the neighbor in any way, and so to good and truth in any way. Consequently it is a fear lest harm is done to the holiness present in love and faith, and so in worship. But such fear can vary; it is not the same with one person as it is with another. In general the more love anyone has for what is good and true, the more fear he has lest what is good and true will suffer harm, though the less that fear manifests itself as fear. But the less love anyone has for what is good and true, the less fear he has for their safety and the more this manifests itself not as love but as fear. And with the latter kind of person the fear of hell is present. But with one who has no love at all of what is good and true, no holy fear at all is present, only the fear of losing honor, gain, and reputation on account of these; also the fear of punishments and execution. This kind of fear is external, affecting principally the body and the natural man, and his thinking there. But the other kind of fear - holy fear - affects principally the spirit or internal man, and his conscience there.
September 25, 2005
Church of the New Jerusalem
845 Congress Ave
Glendale, Ohio 45246