I have preached many sermons over the years about fear, all of them dealing on some level with my own. It is a subject that would be hard to avoid. I once preached what I’m sure was a bang-up sermon on this subject and the threat fear is to faith. I think it had to do with the fact that human beings come with few natural fears, really only two—loud noises and falling (although I think there are differences of psychological opinion about this). A member of the congregation, one I thought would wholeheartedly agree with what I had said, made an observation afterwards that has made me think about fear sermons more carefully ever since. He reminded me that not all fears are irrational, and indeed, some contribute to survival, which would have to make them beneficial. Fear, he argued, is not all bad.
I’ve struggled with that idea over the years. I still do. Here’s where I am now, though.
Fear, it seems to me, is neither inherently bad nor inherently good. My parishioner is right. Fear has its usefulness.
But the issue isn’t the one he posed, whether fear is rational or not. The issue is whether it gets in the way of living life to the fullest, living the lives we are called to live, living the lives we desire, in our heart of hearts, to live. And when that happens, whether the fear is rational or not really is beside the point.
Facing Goliath on the field of battle does not strike me as an irrational fear. David did anyway. To do otherwise would have interfered with the life David wanted to live. A storm on the open sea doesn’t strike me as an irrational fear for people in a small boat. The problem is that fear got in the way of the disciples’ relationship with Jesus, and that was the whole purpose of being in the boat to begin with.
Rational or not, the spiritual message is that a courageous life is a life more fully lived than a fearful one. I suspect that is because it is a more fully human one. The natural fears of human beings, after all, are few. And faithful fears are fewer still if they exist at all.