by: Shmuel ben Shlomi
Fear is the most common emotion found among nearly all living beings and creatures on planet Earth. It is a mode of behavior built into the fabric of our psychological makeup as human beings. There was a popular video game called "Layers of Fear" that sought to examine a player's reactions to fear by exposing them to various horror and terror scenarios. But, what exactly is fear? Where does it come from? And, why is it a part of the system of life, at least on Earth?
Fear is defined in most dictionaries as “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”
Psychology Today describes fear as “a vital response to physical or emotional danger that has been pivotal throughout human evolution, but especially in ancient times when men and women regularly faced life-or-death situations.”
Anyone who has felt the sensation of fear in their lives (that encompasses nearly everyone) will attest to what fear “feels” like and how unnerving and unpleasant it is. Some people are so gripped by fear that it leaves them inert and unable to function in society — such as those who experience the fear of leaving the confines of their domiciles for public/outdoor spaces known as agoraphobia.
In the popular 1984 film rendition of “Dune” based on a series of novels from Frank Herbert the main character of the story named Paul Atreides, who was destined to become the savior of the galaxy, was tested by the Reverend Mother of the highly political religious order of the time to see if he was truly that savior called Muad’Dib by his followers. This test was all mental and spiritual but included immense physical pain which only a true Muad’Dib could withstand. As the test was being administered and the pain was becoming more than Paul could endure he spoke those famous words, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
That is a very powerful proclamation that came deep within the soul of Paul Atreides. It was also reflected in the soul of King David when he said with as much conviction in Psalm 118:6:
“The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do unto me?”
This brings us to the question — Is fear a good thing or a bad thing? It is both, depending on what kind of fear is being addressed.
If it is the type that incapacitates a person from being able to think and act freely, such as overwhelming, debilitating fear then it is very bad for the physical, mental and spiritual health of the person.
A second type of fear is a good kind of fear. It is the kind that gives one a sense of apprehension, an intuition of dire consequences or an early warning device which allows a person to adequately and responsibly prepare for what may well lay ahead. A good example of this would be the fear that Noah experienced when forewarned by God of an upcoming worldwide disaster that would wipe out most of life on the planet. Noah didn’t cringe or give in to this fear but began preparing for it in order to save all he was allowed to save from the oncoming Deluge.
The third type of fear is wholly good. It has been referred to as “the fear of the LORD.” This kind of fear is nothing like the previous two mentioned. It is purely a spiritually driven fear that is best equated to AWE, RESPECT, REVERENCE FOR and VENERATION OF. There is absolutely no negativity in this type of fear and always results with the soul experiencing a peace and calmness that surpasses all human understanding.
The writer of The Proverbs in the Jewish Scriptures gave instruction on how to implement this fear of the LORD in Proverbs 3:5-8
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart (mind-will),
And lean not upon your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will direct your paths.
Don’t be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD, and depart from evil;
It shall be health to your navel (true inner self),
And marrow to your bones.”
The same writer later states that real wisdom has one beginning, one starting point and it begins with the person being in complete awe in, respect to, reverence for, and veneration of the LORD God of Hosts:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the All-holy is understanding.”
There is nothing wrong with living a life of fear, as long as it is the proper kind of fear. HaShem, speaking through the prophet Isaiah reveals what a life of fear of the LORD is like and that living that kind of fearful life we will never succumb, be overtaken or destroyed by the fear of the world, humankind or anything else:
“Fear not, for I AM with you, do not be dismayed, for I AM your God; I AM strengthens you, yes, I AM helps you; Yes, I AM holds you up with My victorious right hand.” — Isaiah 41:10
For those old enough to remember or are fluent in American history we can recall those comforting words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the start of World War II: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I would like to addendum his remarks with “The only thing we ever need to fear is the LORD Himself for that is the kind of fear that leads to victory, fulfillment, wisdom, grace and completeness.”