Fear, Red Bull, and Faith

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My son and I are downhill mountain bikers. Like many sports, this one has extremely high consequence for mistakes. The speed, terrain, and technical features means that you cannot try a new trail or feature without riding at the peak level of your competence and confidence. Increasingly, this is true for many sports and this is rising to an amazing level.

In a recent video from Red Bull TV called The Benefit of Fear, a psychologist Eric Brymer said: “What is possible is always moving so we don’t really know what humans beings are capable of doing.”

Big wave surfer, Andrew Cotton says: “Fear is information like anything else, it’s telling you that you better take this seriously.” The Red Bull perspective, at least for sports like these, is that fear should be a close companion. “The closer we live to death, the more we understand it, the more we appreciate it in an experiential way, the more positive we can live life.” ~Eric Brymer

Fear of dying while doing a risky sport is perhaps the most positive use of fear. When you are dealing with a reality that will have no mercy, fear is always appropriate.

But fear has a bad side too.

In the life coaching space, many of us spend a large portion of our time helping people to get beyond their fears. Bad fear paralyzes us. It makes us risk averse, and thus we live lives far below our potential. As a result, many people have a deep dissatisfaction with life and it begins a cycle of depression and despair.  That is a horrible form of death, because it is a prison of existence while not really living.

So what does it mean to fear God? Proverbs tells us that receiving the words of wisdom begins a chain reaction which allows us to “understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:5

The end result is a full, abundant life (John 10:10). Truly living rather than just existing. Like the Red Bull film, this fear means that we need to take ultimate reality seriously, but unlike a gigantic unmerciful wave, God is overflowing with mercy. Once again, life is a metaphor for ultimate reality.

Those that avoid God are not risking hell, they are actually risking nothing. Their hell is living in a landlocked self that is never shaped by the wave. Hell is the fear of losing their small self or fearing the best self. The small self is temporal and corporeal. The true self is that part of us that never dies and thus can’t fear death.

Those believers that see God as unmerciful to sinners (rather than someone who loves sinners), will avoid the tremendous wave of mercy in a similar way. They will not risk anything. They will have a tightly wound, landlocked life too. Life is a defensive play, wasting years hoping to avoid something terrible when they die. All the while they overlook the fact that they never really lived. If the Fear of God keeps them from living, then its not God they are fearing, rather its the loss of the small self, or fear of the best self.

Sorén Kierkegaard put it this way: “When death is the greatest danger, one hopes for life; but when one becomes acquainted with an even more dreadful danger, one hopes for death. So when the danger is so great that death has become one’s hope, despair is the disconsolateness (inconsolable reality) of not being able to die.”

Thus the forward path then is to fearfully place the small self at death’s door so that the true self can emerge from the experience with that which is greater than us. Many small deaths lead to a very rich life.

Two people look at the giant wave. One’s fear allows him/her to explore their limits and lives in balance with and is formed by the power that is in and through the wave. The other lives on the beach and only knows the power from a distance and thus has no real experience with it and will not be shaped by it.

As a metaphor for faith, who is the real believer?