Nurturing Elders and Others:
We see best through two different lenses of fear
By the Rev. Paul Graves
Terrorism. Star-studded night. “Fear Factor” and “Survivor” reality TV. Birth of a child. Inner-rage. Inner-compassion. Hurricanes. Civil Rights Act. Fire. Biblical “literalism”. Religious faith. Biblical “liberalism”.
This random list of every day facts in our lives has something in common. Give up already? It’s FEAR, folks. Each item generates fear in the hearts of somebody in our country or city or even our own home.
That can’t be! Yes, it can, because “fear” is a word with two very different synonyms: dread and awe.
So while you’re pondering which kind of fear is found in those words and phrases — and by whom — please read on.
The Bible is filled with references to fear — 436 references in fact, at least in my RSV Bible Concordance. Some speak to the dread of God, persons or circumstances.
You may be more familiar with biblical dread since it’s a too-common experience for most of us.
We have tiny fears and giant fears. We run from them, we turn around and face them. We use them to attack one another. We use them to ridicule each other. We let fear/dread determine how we see so many ordinary daily events.
Yet many of the biblical references point to the attitude of awe and reverence we must have toward God in order to see ourselves in healthy relation to God and other persons. Still, my hunch is that we find less awe in our daily lives and more dread.
We too easily forget “the fear (awe) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:07). We easily forget to see the awe-full wonder of each person who walks into our lives.
We too easily allow dread-fear to suffocate our joy of awe-fear. Dread seems so much in-your-face today.
So perhaps it’s time to sit down for a little exam behind the phoropter called “faith.” Oh, you don’t know what a phoropter is? If you wear glasses, you have used one and perhaps didn’t realize it.
A phoropter is the instrument an eye doctor has you look through while changing lenses until what you see is sharp and focused.
So sit down. Let the doctor lead you through some lens changes that might be helpful. For this exam, there are only two groups of lenses in the phoropter. They are both labeled “fear.”
One group of lenses allows you to see items and experiences and people in your life for the potential dread they represent. Some fears are a sign of responsible thinking and action, such as don’t touch a hot stove, and look both ways before crossing a street. That kind of common-sense fear is good.
But if you wear a prescription that has dread-fear lenses on both sides of your eyeglasses, all you see is dread. The first thing you see in another person is potential danger. Your first reaction to a new idea is rejection because you fear change.
You may even misread the eye chart when you come to I John 4:18. You find yourself squinting because it’s a bit fuzzy. Then with some hesitancy you read, “Perfect fear casts out love.” Oops, time to change the lenses, friend!
The doctor changes to the second group of lenses that includes only awe and reverence. Right away you see that I John 4:18 actually reads “Perfect love casts out fear.” So you begin to see the beauty in flowers even when they’ve died from lack of water. Or you overlook the criminal record of a person because you can see inside to the soul of a child of God who has gone far astray.
A problem with both lenses in your eyeglasses being of the “awe-reverence” type is that you may too easily forget accountability, responsibility, respect and other social restraints. They’re needed to keep yourself and others in healthy relationship with one another. And with God.
Our awe of God’s power and love must be balanced by honestly dealing with our own shortcomings and others’ obvious distasteful habits. Then we can embrace both the unbelievable willingness of God to love us in spite of our failings, and God’s utter confidence that we can growth into the compassionate, justice-driven persons we were created to become.
So let’s ask the doctor to make sure our new eyeglasses have both kinds of fear lenses in them. Now, if we can just get those glasses to let us see more honestly inside of our own, aging hearts.
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair of the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries for the PNWUMC.