My devotions these past these days centered on Wanda Sanseri’s God’s Priceless Woman—a 182-page study manual of Biblical models on how a godly woman should live. I went over this material a year ago, but the lessons got somehow lost with the daily grind. It took me another crack of serious studying to be refreshed anew of the timeless insights and spiritual jewels hidden in its pages. Indeed, it pays to keep books at arm’s length even as they have been read twice over. One can never fully grasp any read in just one sitting. Every flick of a page opens up to new realizations and new insights that somehow escaped my finite understanding as first time reader.
This week, I was particularly struck with the lesson on Fearing God.
There are two definitions of “Fear” in my elder brother’s musty, worn-out, 1996Webster Comprehensive Dictionary. First, it is defined as “an emotion excited by threatening evil or impending pain, accompanied by a desire to avoid or escape it.” It is synonymous to “apprehension “ or “dread.” Another definition is “reverence for constituted authority, especially when accompanied by obedience thereto.” Between the two, I consider the former as the common and accepted definition of fear, and the one I am most familiar with based on experience. As a little girl, I associate fear with racing nerves and pounding chest. Of all the things I feared the most, three things stood out: snakes, ghosts and death, in that order. Snakes give me the creeps not so much for their hideous look but for their power to strike one dead with their venomous fangs. Ghosts, we are made to believe, are spirits of the dead. And death in particular is a dreaded reality. It is the aberration, the ceasing and the snuffing out of everything normal and expected, that makes news of death a doom. Born with active and wild imagination, I practically grew up with irrational fears which would later catch up on me and lead me powerless to live a full life. Much later in my young adult years, fears of failure and rejection gripped me, such that I had to take extra effort and beat my brains out to ensure “excellence” in what I do. Yet, despite my efforts, fear oftentimes crippled me.
I remember when I was around fifteen, I was a nervous wreck. Everytime I would participate in contests, especially those that required me to be on stage and face an audience, I would go on wild, what-if-trippings and entertain every imaginable negative scenario, leaving me mentally exhausted. Physical manifestations were throbbing temples and hollow and dark circles around my eyes. On the day I was supposed to compete in the Paraluman ng Wika contest (a beauty and brains contest), where I represented my high school alma mater-Naga College Foundation, I had to cover my eyes with a pair of sliced cucumber in an attempt to look fresh and rested. Nonetheless, I still looked like a spent call-center agent on grave yard shift and photos of that contest gave me away (well, there wasn’t any call center yet in the late 80s). My husband’s common expression for this is : Parang Hinugot sa pantion or one that appeared to have been plucked out of the grave.) Once, when I was practising for an oratorical contest, I even felt my fingers stiffen as I started gesticulating. Despite these pre-contest scenarios though, I was always as brave as a lion every time the moment of truth came. I had a no-retreat, no-surrender attitude. I always performed to the best that I could as if there was no tomorrow. And always, I came out a winner, though not number one all the time, but always a victor—despite days and even weeks of pre-competition imaginary doomsday rides. Whew, looking back I sure have wasted time wallowing in irrational fears.
Sleepless for a week, Ist Runner-Up still.
What of fear of the Lord? This is where the second definition of Webster comes in, but one which never sunk into me in the days of my youth.
I remember on my last year in high school I would often be gripped with unknown and almost paralyzing fear every time I passed by the administration office of NCF and cast a sweeping glance at the religious posters plastered on the wall. One of these read: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For an ordinary teenager, such signages would not cause unnecessary fear, or discomfort. In fact as I observed schoolmates, they even seemed oblivious to those posters. But then, I was no ordinary kid and I was affected, deeply affected by them. Everytime I would unintentionally look at that particular ‘religious’ poster, I shuddered. I felt an incomprehensible guilt as it reminded me how far I was in my relationship to that Great, yet distant Being who I thought was some kind of a kill-joy, celestial policeman out to whack every mortal being engaged in some fun. I feared, in fact, dreaded Him who I thought would cut prematurely all my hopes of becoming who I wanted to be and quash my nurtured, clandestine longings to enjoy life as I deserve. I did not want Him standing in my way so he had to be in the back seat while I take charge of the wheels and decide which road to take. What folly, though! The more I escaped from God, the heavier was the load I felt in my chest, and the more I felt miserable. My prideful independence from the real source of life and the irrational fears that shaped my persona brought me to the murkiest period in my life, with only my loved ones to hang on to—a period when an ordinary teener should be out there building friendships, exploring academic and career options, making dreamy plans with her prince and even chasing her rainbows (this testimony will be a subject of a future posting).
Fast forward to 2010. Twenty years have passed since that first thud in my chest after reading John 14:6 from a school poster. Those scales of ignorance, folly and deception that have blurred my vision were scraped away—thanks to some special people who were patient enough to share their own spiritual journeys and the peace, quiet and joy they have found in resting their weary heads upon the bosom of the Great Life Giver. My humanly fears took a full swerving, now overridden by a different kind of fear—a healthy fear and definitely more preferable than the one I used to live with.
Ms. Sansesi’s study guide led me to the following verses that define what fear of the Lord is, as opposed to the feeling of dread and apprehension that long conditioned my finite, mortal mind:
Psalms 128:1 Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways.
Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.
Psalm 147:11 The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
Proverbs 8:13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil.
Psalm 112:1 Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.
Proverbs 3:6 Do not be wise in your own eyes. Fear the Lord and shun evil.
Whenever fear and panic start to set in, I find comfort in the following verses:
Psam 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?
Psalm 34: I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed ,for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Luke 12:4-5 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Who would have thought how powerful The Word can be? Who would have thought Hebrews 4:12 would just leap out of the pages of my NIV Bible with words ringing true to me: “ For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” My transformation from a nerve-wracked kiddo to a sane, sober person with a healthy attitude about life comes from constant immersion to and brooding over the truths of the Bread. Merlin’s wand did not do the trick, neither did I just wake up one day instantly and fully transformed. My journey was slow, albeit painful and fraught with struggles, within and without (see my 2008 post of the Natural man and the Spiritual Man).
And oh, yes, I still have eerie sensations –those feelings that those little hairs on my nape stand on their own every time I hear about snakes, ghosts and news of death. They may never go away. But the fears are well-contained now—never to overpower me again. After all, all my humanly fears are rooted in my slavery to the fear of death. But thanks be to the Only Begotten Son, the eternal creator , the Alpha and the Omega, and the great I AM who shed His heavenly glory to redeem wretched souls like me. Hebrews 2:14-15 sum up Christ’s purpose in sharing our humanity—walking barefoot along the rugged hills of his birthplace, experiencing thirst and pangs of hunger, being tempted as much as we are, and eventually suffering an agonizing, violent death.
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
The truth liberates.