What is the opposite of fear? Or what does it mean to have no fear? When we ask ourselves these things we might assume positive things such as liking or loving to be opposite to our negative understanding of fear. However, liking or loving someone or something can be a positive demonstration of great fear.Fearing and loving the Lord therefore is not the opposite of fearing the wrath of the Lord. Both are fear, with opposite results. So what is the opposite of fear? Indeed, what is fear?
A worthy subject in examining fear is my family’s dog – Rufee. He’s a Jack Russel Foxy cross, and he’s generally a happy-go-lucky type of dog. When we are out walking there’s a flock of birds, Noisy Minors, and they lay siege upon Rufee every time we walk past their territory. It’s a sight to be seen as Rufee sniffs around the place with thirty odd birds dive-bombing him and creating a commotion that’s heard some distant away. But does he care? Not in the slightest! In fact I don’t even think he knows they exist.
However, it’s a different story if he sees a bird scavenging around on the ground, or he sees a hare or a wallaby or a cat. He notices them and usually tears off after them in a cloud of dust. The other morning he took off after two Magpies who were innocently foraging around amongst the frosty clumps of grass. I thought to myself, this was probably not a wise course of action. Chasing them now might seem like fun, but in a couple of month when they begin their breeding season, and the Magpie’s temperament changes, he will incur the wrath of old man Magpie. And every Australian knows that a Magpie attack can be a little more viscous than a bunch of Noisy Minors.
But then after we arrive home I give him a bone and Rufee displays a regular ritual that seems to show fear. He first looks at me as if to say, “Wow, am I really allowed to have this morsel of meat and bone, boss?” Then he sheepishly examines the bone in a rather subtle way. He stands back from the bone as if to not raise too much attention, looking around, looking at the bone, then looking around again, then the bone, then around the place once more, to see if the coast is clear. He genuinely fears that someone else is going to come and steal his bone. So he moves the bone from where I dropped it on the back lawn and takes it to a place where he can enjoy it in peace.
One might wonder what the point of all this might be! However, these different responses, I believe, demonstrate the opposites of fear.
The Noisy Minors bomb the living daylights out of Rufee and he doesn’t care. These little noisy birds have no power over him. Fear and power are connected.
The animals that take off when he chases them might also seem as though they have no power over him; that he doesn’t care about them either. But he loves chasing them and he loves the fact that they run or take flight. Although I’m sure he would be surprised if it happened, he is also disappointed he can’t catch the animals he chases. These creatures have power over him and therefore he demonstrates fear. Somewhere within the dog’s makeup is his inbuilt desire to chase and with it is his love for doing so. He actually respects the fact that they flee so he can chase them. They flee and this empowers him to impulsively chase.
Then when he is eating his bone this same power instinctively causes him fear of me in the same positive way as when he chases another animal, but then when he surveys the surrounds for other dogs he goes through his ritual to protect what is his. Something has power over him, the bone, his instinct, or both. This power causes fear in the negative sense. And when the Magpies start diving Rufee in Springtime I’m sure he will be the one fleeing in fear, especially if they hit him a couple of times with their beaks. This also is a power, causing negative fear. And it’s one we all respect and know of – all too well!
So fear has a lot to do with power. The opposite of fear is not caring. Or to put it another way, there’s no respect, acknowledgement, or interest for the good or the bad which might happen. Not fearing is when something has no power over us, either positively or negatively.
When we speak of fear in the bible, there are many occasions where we hear of fear that causes people to worry and doubt. But the positive side of fear is also to be found. In Matthew 9 Jesus heals a paralytic some men had brought to him on a mat. Then in verse 8 we hear, “When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.” (Matthew 9:8) The crowd which was filled with awe is actually filled with fear, as it is written in the Greek but translated as awe in English. The crowd attributes authority, or power, to Jesus at his healing of the man and they worship God.
In fact, fear and faith go hand in hand. What we fear, whether good or bad, is something or someone we trust is going to do something of power to us.When we fear, we believe something or someone to have the greatest power or authority at that moment, if not all the time.
Unfortunately, most of the time, our fear is negative. Many occasions in the bible Jesus calls those he speaks to, to not have fear. This is negative fear that something bad is going to happen, because of Jesus’ extraordinary power, or since they see his power fear and believe their weakness or sin will bring them punishment.
When Jesus approached the boat on the lake, the disciples are full of fear. This is not because they recognise it’s Jesus coming toward them with extraordinary power, but because they had wearily fought against the rough sea right through the night. The disciples were Jewish men and held a fear for the water. They had a deep respect for its power as they superstitiously thought the depths were full of chaotic evil. And since the waves had antagonistically fought against them for most of the night, the appearance of Jesus walking on water is the last straw, leading them to believe a phantasmic spirit from the deep has come to get them.
When Jesus approaches the disciples in the boat, he immediately says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 15:27) What he does is refocuses the disciples on him and his power. He instructs them to fear him, not because he is a phantom or a spirit from the deep coming in power over them, but rather, he is Jesus coming in power over the deep. When he says, “Take courage”, he tells the disciple to be of good cheer or to positively and boldly fear him who has power over all things.
So Peter is bold and he says to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) But when Jesus invites him out of the boat the negative inbuilt fear and belief in the chaotic waters overcomes his newfound bold faith in Jesus standing on the water just outside the boat.
What is it that you fear? What do you believe has power in your life? And is this fear negative or positive? Most people are usually overcome by a negative fear like Peter, and fail to see the awesome power of God and fear him in a way that glorifies his love for us.
You are called to a fear of God that acknowledges his power over your sin. You need not fear God like a bogeyman who’s going to get you in the night; like the phantasma the disciples thought was going to get them on the lake.
You have been called not to waver, and turn about face, as the struggles come and go in your lives. Rather believe the extraordinary power of God, the power won at the cross over sin, and the power of God the Holy Spirit in the written word of God.
Sin and all the forces of evil, although still present in this life, are not to be feared. When we fear these things we give back their power over us and turn away from he who has all authority in heaven and on earth.
God says to us, I am the Lord your God you shall have no other Gods! And we know that to mean, we are to fear, love and trust God above anything else!Therefore, come to him as he extends his hand to you. Let your sin have no power over you as you expose it to the cross and the forgiveness of Christ who hung there for you. And positively fear God who has placed Jesus Christ, the foundation of faith, in you. Amen.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever, Amen!