If Fear is a Prayer, Perhaps God Has Already Answered
Last week I wrote about fear as a prayer for help when we feel in over our heads. Since then, I’ve been thinking more about the role fear plays in the church. Rather than fight it or ask people to stop being afraid, I propose we accept it as our state of mind right now, as our fervent prayer to God, and consider for a moment where this might lead us.
First, I remember that the Wisdom Literature in the Bible (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon) speak clearly of the deepest ground that all of us in the church share. It is the fear of God required of us all. Proverbs declares in the first chapter, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (1:7).” This took me a long time to understand, but I have come to accept that we are all in over our heads when we are in the presence of God.
Job teaches this truth when, after his long defense of his righteousness, he finds himself before God and concludes, “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (42:6).” Job knows he is in over his head in the presence of God. For all of us in the church, fear of God is our common ground. We all need help in facing God.
So what does the fear of God mean when we have all been taught to see Christ in the eyes of all we meet? Does it mean we should fear one another? No. I believe it means that we must cultivate the discipline of humility and compassion — the product of our fear of God — toward each person we encounter. And our plea for help will be answered by God’s gift of the other’s helping hand, in their compassion for us.
Second, I am reminded of these words from II Timothy 1:7 in the King James Version: “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Not only do we share the fear of God, which teaches us humility and repentance; we also share God’s pure gift of energy, intelligence, imagination and love. Our fears are real and fervent prayers for help. At the same time, God has not left us helpless or powerless, having given us the power to show love and compassion to one another.
You may know the story of the man on his roof in the midst of a flood who prays to God for help. A rowboat comes by and offers to rescue him, but he declines the help, saying, “No, God is going to save me.” Then a helicopter flies over and they offer help but he declines, saying, “No God will rescue me.” Finally he drowns, goes to heaven and comes before God, where he asks, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God replies, “You know, I sent a rowboat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
So now this is what I see: wherever we stand on the place of GLBT people in the church, our fears are a plea for help, and that can be our common ground. And it may well be that God’s response to our fears is to give us each to the other. Perhaps we can all agree: that is exactly the kind of thing God in Christ would do.