What scares you?

By Greg Jones

What scares you? Except for heights, waves, snakes, car accidents, and all sorts of things I never used to think about before I had three kids and turned 40, I’m not scared of anything.

But what about you? What terrors you? What scares you? What freaks you out and makes your blood run cold? Can you think of anything?

In the stories of Elijah and the widow, or Jesus and the widow whose only son has died, we see some very scary circumstances. Stories of fragile households suffering from hunger, defeat, grief, distress, death and isolation.

In Paul’s story there is something scary also – he tells us of a different sort of terror. Of how he used to be a religious terrorist, killing folks in the name of God. How in his zeal for his faith, he was willing to murder. A terrifying and confusing disposition to say the least.

Yet, one not strange to religion. For fear is real, is a powerful motivator, and the power-hungry of the world know it.

Has anybody ever tried to motivate you to do or accept something with scare tactics? Of course. And I’m not talking about life insurance, having a will, or driving a car with air bags. No, I’m talking about the intentional exploitation of what scares you for the purpose of getting you to do or buy into something.

Believe, me, its tempting to say this is what American Politics has come to. To this place where we hear a chorus of nattering nabobs on internet, tv and radio trying to scare everybody into adopting their interests; and the folk in government either leading or following waves of anxiety and self-interest. It’s tempting to say this, but clearly this is nothing new or particular to America.

No, even Christians have and do this sort of thing; using fear to motivate, and claiming God’s glory all the while.

Have you ever felt threatened by Christians? Or their message? Or approach? I hope not, but plenty do. In my family, we have many refugees from abusive religion.

Which is tragic because when spreading the faith of God in Christ, the use of scare tactics is just not the way to go. How could it be? Yet, there it is. Scaring people into believing in Christ, threatening, cajoling, browbeating; this just can’t be what the Spirit wants. Terrifying and putting down those who we already don’t like and justifying it from Scripture, perhaps those who are gay, or those who are foreign, or those who are simply ‘different’ — obviously this is absolutely anathema to the Gospel. And yet, how many times has it been presented as if it were the Gospel?

No, I believe in the fear of God — but the fear of God is a different kind of fear than the fears exploited by those deceived by powers and principalities.

I believe the fear of God is a fear utterly unlike all other fears, and is entirely seeking to gather, to invite, to attract people to God, not out of terror but awe, not anxiety but wonder.

The fear of God is not about being scared, but being amazed; the trembling that comes from hope. It’s the fear which causes folks to stop, to pause, to gape, to marvel, and to want to make a change in how we’re living. This fear of God must be experienced to be trusted, I think, and it can’t be forced — or passed on by threat.

And in my life, most frequently, I have experienced this sort of godly fear among those who have chosen to live with Jesus as their Lord. Folks who care about the weak, the oppressed, the forgotten, the widowed, the orphaned, the poor in spirit – and the low on cash.

I have experienced this fear of God in those whove been to hell and back in this life, from loss, or suffering, or anguish, who changed from closing to opening hearts, and who are looking to give love to those around. I sensed this fear of God in those who can say, “I know Jesus, he loves me, I love him, and we love you, no matter what”. That’s the Gospel the world needs to hear.

There’s lots to be afraid of friends, and I can worry myself into a tizzy if I try — but I am convinced that Christ is an eternal wellspring of hope in a big bad world. I believe God raises the dead, cherishes the humble, and pours out grace enough that we needn’t truly fear anything but separation from God.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (‘Greg’) is rector of St. Michael’s in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

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