“Fear Drive My Feet” is the title of a book I once read. It is an account of military surveillance by Peter Ryan in the Pacific (primarily Bougainville Island) during WWII. Ryan endured hardship in the jungles to transmit the activities of Japanese aircraft to military allies, who would then be forewarned of imminent attacks. When I read the book (years ago) I could feel the fear and danger that Ryan describes. The fear of being found by the Japanese kept Ryan moving from one place to another in the jungle while the people of Bougainville helped keep him safe.
An idiom we may have used is, “I was scared to death,” meaning that I was so scared that I did not know what to do. We also say, “starved to death,” and use the word “death” in other ways, but I want to concentrate a bit on fear.
Fear—being afraid—can seem to affect various parts of our body: our blood runs cold; we break out in a cold sweat; we shake like a leaf; we jump out of our skin; our stomach has butterflies; the hair on the back of our head stands up; we have chills down our spine; we even think we might have a heart attack. We get cases of the jitters or heebie-jeebies and may be scared out of our wits. Hopefully, not all of these at the same time.
Recently I asked our son, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, if he remembered an event he shared in Papua New Guinea. The two of us were trying to cross a vine bridge over a flooded river and it was pitch dark. We were trying to get my small Honda 90 motorcycle to the other side. He recalled it vividly and said he had told it to his children and grandchildren. I asked him if he was scared and he said something that struck me: “You didn’t seem to be scared, so I wasn’t.” As a matter of fact, I was scared. The bridge was about 60 feet in length and my son was at the front of the bike, guiding it, and I was pushing it from the back. However, the footrests of the bike kept snagging on the short vertical vines (attached to long horizontal ones) and I would have to release them—some of them snapped in the process. The river was still rising and I had the bike headlight on so that we could see where we were going. It probably took us only 10 minutes or so but, like with any good story I can embellish it. Of course, we made it safely or I wouldn’t be telling you the story, but the fear of the occasion was overcome by the intense desire to get safely to the other side of the river and home.
Fear can be like that. It can motivate us and push us in a straight direction: we read in Proverbs 9:10 (NIV):“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Or, as the Good News Bible translates it: “To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord. If you know the Holy One, you have understanding.” The word translated as “fear” occurs 336 times in the NIV in many different contexts, but various versions translate the concept using other words, e.g., “reverence.”
However, I did not have “reverence” for the river we were crossing, I was “afraid” of it. And that is generally the idea when we talk about fear. If we read that someone “feared for his/her life” it means that they believed they might die. Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” The kind of fear I am talking about is not pleasant.
We have an epidemic going on all around us and thousands of people are dying. It is natural and somewhat wise to be fearful because we know what can happen if we are not. Although we do not want to be overcome by fear of the pandemic, we can be foolish and not wear masks and observe social distancing, Instead, we should be concerned about those we meet and love. We have all heard 1 John 4:18, “Perfect love drives out fear.” Obviously, most of us do not have “perfect love.” However, in context, John has been talking about boldness and wants us to have courage, like Christ.
Jesus certainly was concerned (fearful?) about his forthcoming torture and execution—his fervent prayer in Luke 23: 39-45 was such that an angel was sent to strengthen him. But he was determined to carry out his Father’s will. Fear did not overcome his purpose.
We know that fear can cause terrible results. We don’t want to be robbed but if we are fearful of every unusual noise at night or every unusual person we see, we can become paranoid and, if we have a gun, might shoot the person.
Perhaps the biggest fear that humans have (we can’t be sure about animals) is the fear of death. We have invented trivial ways to talk about it—sure signs of worry: we bite the dust; we go to our Maker; we go to the big place in the sky; we go belly up; we buy the farm; we count worms; we cross the Jordan; we fall off the perch; the game ends; and so on. Making fun of death may be a way of coping, but it does nothing to eliminate our demise. What can help us?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is “the last enemy to be defeated.” Death will be destroyed, and we will be changed into something that cannot die (15:53).
Joice and I are old (not “getting old”) and sometimes wonder “who will go first?” This does not occupy a lot of our thinking and, when it does, it is not macabre. It is realistic to be ready and because of God’s mercy we are. We know that the fear of God is quite distinct from the terror of Him—there are over 100 references in the Bible to the fear of God and they are cited in the positive sense of faith and obedience. It is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life.
Karl and Joice Franklin
At a ripe old coon’s age; no spring chickens