Andrew Watson: Develop a healthy fear of the Lord
ONE of my sons is an outdoor pursuits instructor. The other day he shared some interesting trends with me.
Apparently recent research suggests that since the introduction of seatbelts and safety helmets there are more accidents and injuries, not fewer - it seems that when people feel protected, they take greater risks...
When our head is encased in kevlar we will ride our BMX or skateboard down steps - or even the bannister - and when we are belted in to the car and surrounded by airbags, we turn the music up and drive faster.
And often the result is not safety but tragedy.
Someone has suggested that the most effective safety feature in a car would be a large nail attached to the steering wheel - facing the sharp reality of potential injury or death might make people drive with a little more care and respect.
Society in previous generations is often presented as harsh and repressive, instilling unnecessary fear in citizens, but some of us nowadays are asking if a little fear might not have been a good thing.
People today are not afraid to break the law, to speed, to prosper from dishonesty and to commit rape, adultery or even murder.
We feed on such things for entertainment on the TV and internet, with the effect that we are no longer shocked or afraid.
There is less respect for life, relationships, property and community. Encouraged by 'friends' in the 'virtual' world, we are developing a surreal existence where we feel safe to do things once considered dangerous, irresponsible and immoral.
In Biblical times these trends came and went as in every age.
However, the writers maintain that a fundamental element in any society that wants to practise freedom with safety and order is a healthy 'fear' of our Maker: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," as Solomon put it in words recorded in Proverbs 9:10.
Solomon was a king whose insightful judgment and success in government became legendary during his own reign.
We feed on such things for entertainment on the TV and internet, with the effect that we are no longer shocked or afraid
In Psalm 36, King David lamented wicked people who practised flattery and deceit, saying: "There is no fear of God before (their) eyes."
It is plain from the rest of the Psalm that David's 'fear' of God was not a snivelling terror but a deep reverence for the Creator and Law-Giver and thankful trust in the Lord his loving Shepherd, whom he calls "the fountain of life".
It is interesting to reflect on how Jesus, in the same breath as He reassures His followers of God's loving care, also warns them: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
Or what about the Apostle Peter's first New Testament letter to fellow believers, which says: "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed... but with the precious blood of Christ..."
This kind of 'fear' prompted David, Solomon, Peter and countless others since to live life humbly but positively, seeking prayerfully to practise what is right and good.
These were not perfect people. Like us all they made serious mistakes and at times needed to beg forgiveness, but this general pattern in their lives definitely proved a blessing to them and those around them.
So a little healthy fear, and a lifestyle based on respect and gratitude, issuing in willing self-control and joy - no bad thing, surely?
- Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Donegal. He is the author of Finding Our Way Home: Prayers and Reflections for Our Journey in Christ, published by Veritas. He will be signing copies and reading reflections at the Veritas shop in Letterkenny from 11am on Friday July 14.