God, Fear of, and Fear for Others
I want to take look at a driving force in our lives: fear.
You see, fear is a great motivator for our actions — much of what we do is attributable to one of two kinds of fear: fear of something and fear for something.
Fear of something is when you choose to do or say something because you are afraid of what something or someone else might do to you, to someone you love, or to something you care about. The root of this particular fear is self-preservation or self-advancement, considering that we identify with both who we love and what we care about, even when our fears extend towards protecting the people close to us and our possessions or jobs, we are essentially still protecting ourselves and our tribe.
When you are afraid of someone else or some other group of people either harming you (and by extension those people and things you love), taking things away from you, or even simply holding you back or competing with you and you act in accordance to limit, hurt, or repulse such people, you are acting in fear of the other.
This fear is, at its core, driven by selfish impulses. Now, this isn’t to say that one not need practice the common sense of locking up ones valuables, fleeing from imminent danger, or protecting those you love from harm, but there is a distinction between doing what is sensible and what is driven by fear and that distinction lies in whom you are directing the action towards.
Let’s look at the idea of protecting your possessions from theft: You lock your door because you understand that an open door leads to a chance of a burglar to enter your home and steal your belongings. You are aware that such a theft could range from a hinderance to devastating, depending on what was stolen, so as a practicality in order for you to not be so hindered unexpectedly, you lock your door. Your action is directed at a would-be burglar that you know little of and could come from anywhere. It is merely theft which you are afraid of.
However, the moment you start personifying the would be burglar, giving them a particular attribute like race, nationality, or religion, you stop being afraid of burglars and you start being afraid of “the other”, as the attribute you deem as common to those which you are acting against you will almost certainly not have yourself. This is the moment you transition from having a practical fear to creating a fear that divides yourself from this imagined other, who is out to hurt you, to steal your possessions, or to prevent you from advancing in this world. And this division is what makes your fear driven out of self-interest.
In contrast, we can also act in fear for this other.
“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” -Deuteronomy 10:12–12 (NASB)
“He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” -Deuteronomy 10:18–19 (NASB)
It is ever and always clear that the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New demands that his followers love their neighbor, but takes it a couple steps further by asking us to love foreign nationals within our lands and, yes, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43–48).
Consider the fear we have of our loved ones being hurt, stolen from, or stifled and then extend this to any of the “other” that you can imagine. When you extend this sort of fear to the other — regardless of how they are divided from you, then you transform your fear from a fear of the other to a fear for the other.
More specifically, what you are doing when you extend your fear to cover someone that might be considered an “other”, you are essentially loving them. A fear for the other is a love for the other. If you treat the other like you treat your loved one, you are loving the other — whether they are your neighbor, a stranger, or even your enemies.
But to fear for the other, it is means that you are putting your concern for their well-being, their possessions, their interests above your own. It means you share with them your means so that they themselves can have means if they are lacking.
And this fear, is the only valid earthly fear that those who follow Jesus should have (fear of God being requisite for it). This is made most obvious when Jesus is instructing his disciples on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 25:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”
“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’”
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’”
“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’”
“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”
“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” -Matthew 25:31–46
What is being asked of his followers by Jesus is both daunting and simple. It’s daunting because Jesus is telling us that we are only his followers if we give to all those whom we see that have needs without condition. And more specifically, it is asking us to be aware of all of our actions. From how we treat the stranger we come across in our daily life to how we consider those that are far away from us and needy, and how we contribute to organizations serving them as well as to how we vote and who we support in government in regards to this other.
If we find ourselves motivated by a fear of the other, then our actions will betray it. We will opt not to give to charitable organizations. We will not attend to the need of the hungry person we pass by. We will press our governments to imprison more and to spurn or expel those from other nations seeking refuge in our borders. Those who act in accordance to a fear of the other are the accursed ones referenced by Jesus above and are enemies of God.
On the other hand, if we are acting in fear for the other, then it will also be evident. We will simply do the opposite of the enemies of God and the betrayers of Jesus. We will feed the hungry. We will give to those in need, whether directly or by organized surrogate. And we will welcome all to our homes those who seek refuge here, both individually and by pressing our nation to do so as well.
This is the distinguishing act of a follower of Jesus. And as daunting as it might be in what it asks of you, to give up your self for the other, it is also incredibly simple. There is no enormous document of rules and regulations of how and what — in the end it is merely asking yourself what your motivation is and who is the beneficiary of your fear.
Are you acting out of fear of the other? Then you are anti-Christ.
Are you acting instead out of fear for the other? Then you can know that Christ is in you.
When God sent Jesus to die for us, it was an act of love. And, in that sense, an act of fear for us — that we not perish but be returned to Him. When we are hungry, He feeds us. When we are thirsty, He gives us water to drink. When we are in need of shelter, He gives us cover. When we are naked, He clothes us. When imprisoned, He visits us. He takes upon himself our very own fears so that we ought not fear anymore.
And if we are with Him, there is no choice but to abandon our fears of how we might have those above things He provides and instead act as He did, giving generously and gracefully to our neighbors, the aliens among us, and even our enemies near and afar.
And if you cannot or you oppose such efforts? Then you also know where you stand.