There has always been a lot of fear in the world, but today it seems our lives are dominated by it. We all suffer nagging, stubborn fears that are hard to shake off. Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, remarked "no passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear." Is it any wonder then, that billions of dollars are spent each year on Prozac and its offspring? Fear, I'm afraid, has become the cliché of modern life.
Henri Nouwen spotlighted the dark shadows that lurk behind our thoughts:
Look at the many 'if' questions we raise: What am I going to do if I do not find a spouse, a house, a job, a friend, a benefactor? What am I going to do if they fire me, if I get sick, if an accident happens, if I lose my friends, if my marriage does not work out, if a war breaks out? What if tomorrow the weather is bad, the buses are on strike, or an earthquake happens? What if someone steals my money, breaks into my house, rapes my daughter, or kills me?
There is no denying that there is much to fear in this life. But what would be your worst fear? If there were one thing that scared you the most, what would that be?
The story of Job in the Bible tells us about a man who faced all of his worst fears head on. Job lost all of his children when his house collapsed on them. He lost his vast wealth and became a penniless beggar. And if that wasn't enough, Job lost his health, scrapping his scabs with broken pieces of pottery.
Things got so bad that Job cursed the day he was born. Can you blame him? His worst fears were realized. He went from being a wealthy, respectable leader to nothing. But Job never cursed God. We never see Job clenching his fists or gritting his teeth at God for the evil in his life.
But how could Job do that? How could someone lose everything and go from being a fortunate son to a homeless pauper and still believe in God? If we suffered what Job did, would we praise God? So what made Job so different?
Obviously in spite of all his tragic losses, there was something far greater than the loss of all his security, his possessions, his family, his health, and his integrity that Job feared.
Above all, Job was afraid of God. Job's worst fear was that God would turn His back on him. That's what eats away at Job. He feared that everything he was going through was because God had abandoned him.
St. Dorotheos of Gaza wrote:
Goodness itself [is] knowing what it is to be with God ... This is the man who has true love, which St. John calls perfect love, and that love leads a man to perfect fear. Such a man fears and keeps to God's will, not for fear of punishment, not to avoid condemnation, but because he has tasted the sweetness of being with God; he fears he may fall away from it; he fears to be turned from it.
Most important to Job was being close to God. He valued God above his family, his wealth, his health and his reputation. He feared losing God. Even though he lived his entire life in obedience to God, faithful and holy, Job came face to face with his worst fear: "What I was afraid of has come on me. What I worried about has happened to me," he cried out (Job 3:25 NIrV). Job looked for God, but God was gone.
This sense of losing God, that dark night when God is gone terrified Job. Job's fear of God was so real that he fought to again find sanctuary with God.
St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic wrote:
The greater our longing for God the greater grows our fear; and the more we hope to attain God, the more we fear Him ... For as nothing is more blessed than to attain God, so nothing is more terrible than this great fear of losing Him.
St. Paul the Apostle said that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God. There is a cost to following God. He wants us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. God wants to burn inside us like a consuming fire that spills over with holiness. Fear God and the fears of this life will abate because the good hand of God will be with you.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.