When a baby is born, the parent has 100% authority over her. The child is completely helpless and is entirely at the will of the parent. Each day the child grows the parent loses a portion of authority and that portion is replaced with influence. By the time a child is 9 or 10 the parenting should involve about 50% authority and 50% influence. Adulthood marks the time when the parent has exchanged all authority for influence.
Problems almost always exist when either authority or influence is used at the wrong time. For example, when a parent allows a four year old to use their best judgement, or when a parent tries to leverage authority with a 17 year old. In the case of the former, authoritative boundaries should have been given and in the latter the parent should primarily rely upon influence.
The scripture says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps 110, Prov 1). In other words, when we first grasp the scope, presence, and power of God in light of our vast limitations, there is usually a fear that corresponds to our first taste of authentic humility.
For centuries, church leaders have been utilizing countless verses in scripture to further promote the fear of God. In cases where fear might mean “reverence” or “awe”, church leaders have morphed it into “piss your pants” fear. The benefits for creating and sustaining a fear culture are that it creates institutional, religious, political, racial, and economic power for those employing scare tactics. In other words, fear promotes authority.
Yesterday on Christian radio I heard multiple sermons that continue to strum the same old string on the banjo. They do this by saying: “There are only two places you can be, “in Christ” or “in the world”, one gets eternal life, the other gets eternal hell. This is because nearly all sermons are focused on salvation. Salvation is now synonymous with accepting Jesus into some imaginary door in our hearts, where he is knocking outside. They misinterpret Jesus exclusivity claim to create fear.
Think about it. Is there only one valid experience of God? Isn’t this why the Jews hated early Christians? Wasn’t the message of Christianity that a gentile (non-jew) could know and love Yahweh and do so without converting to Judaism? Knowing God without converting to the established religious system? Religious leaders said it was impossible. Just like modern Christian preachers. They created a fear culture, Jesus came to free people from it.
There is an appropriate place for fear. I strongly used fear by shouting “Danger” to my kids when they would head toward a street, a ledge, or something truly dangerous. As they got older, I stopped. I now share how much I care so deeply for them that I want them to be mindful to not hurt themselves with their decisions. I moved from authority, to influence.
Good church leaders understand this, but there are few.
Religion is the “thing.” Faith in God is the thing behind the “thing.”
Fear means we’ve made the “thing” the main thing. Faith means we have the thing behind all things.
So many Christians live in constant fear. The same is true for other religions. They fear God’s judgement, his condemnation for their sins, that he will turn his back on his beloved as he did in the old testament days. This makes a bi-polar faith. One that is at peace when we are all “caught up” on our confessions of sin and walking a fairly tight line, and then it switches to massive anxiety as we self flagellate because we “did it again.”
When the writer of Hebrews (7) tells us that the commandments are set aside because they are weak and useless, because the law (and it’s byproduct of fear) doesn’t ever get at the thing behind the thing, he is telling us that as we mature we need to move to the deeper motivators of the love of God and his peace within us. We come to a place of peace with God despite what we have done, are doing, or will do, because we are trusting in what he has done is doing and will do.
The love of God is the greatest power in the universe and as such is the greatest influence as well.
Those who insist on a fear based relationship, will always live frustrated and duty laden lives because they will always be working from the outside in. That is the effect of dead religion. That is like trying to control your teenager using externals.
True faith stems from humility. Faith shows itself in a love of others and the need to learn from others (humility). Often those who do not have a religious background grasp this nuance of love much easier and live in much more peace. We would do well to learn from these folks instead of invalidate them. Liberating the religious person is another challenge.
The fear of God may be the beginning of wisdom, but the love of God and love of others is what wisdom looks like when it has matured.