When we stop and breathe deeply, and we don’t mind the chaos that is around us, we understand that there is fear peddling. It grows and grows. It preys on us. We see that fear shackles us from living whole-hearted lives. Scripture is replete with urgings of “fear not” (we are in advent season, and can hear the angel’s call). But there is also in this ancient book “fear of the Lord”–a revered spiritual disposition.
Abraham and his family once again are aliens–strangers in a strange place. And though Sarah is older now, she still must be striking or possess qualities desirous to men, for Abraham once again postures Sarah as his sister in order to save his own life. When Abimelech, the King who has taken Sarah into his court asks why Abraham would deceive him, Abraham says, because “There is no fear of God at all in this place.”
There is no fear of God at all in this place.
How shall we reconcile this living without fear and that a “fear of the Lord” is an important quality in a person?
Could it be that fear has a hidden virtue in it? What is fear but the opposite side of the coin where love is often found? Have we not love someone or something and feared it’s absence? Who would we be without such love? To fear its removal is the shadow side of love.
Could we not understand “fear of the Lord” as a deep relationship with God. To fear God is to fear nothing more than the loss of God’s affection and attention? Who would we be without unconditional love resting in the core of our being?
Of that, there is none in this land, in which Abraham sojourns. He is strange to them–a people without devotion to an unconditional love. What happens to such people? We read Chapter 19. We know what happens to the heart turned in on itself. No one is safe.
There is another important aspect here about fear, though, that tells us about the path to holiness. How shall we love, how shall we show a robust form of hospitality to the stranger if we our selves have never felt the fear of being the stranger? It is a must for cultivating compassion.
If we know well the fear that rises up in us which seizes our breath and makes for eyes that guard our bags in airports, children in public, back pockets in crowded streets then we know well the shadow-side of love. We know well then what it is like to be a stranger in a strange place. We know well then how to offer aid, how to offer compassion. We know how to identify and how to really come alongside in solidarity because we have walked in those shoes. Fear has been struck in us–we may even call it ‘fear of the lord’–which leads to wholeheartedness.