Not nearly as many people are afraid of spiders as say they are. In fact, not nearly as many people are afraid of anything as say they are. Most of us are simply averse.
There's a huge difference between these two ideas. Being averse to something means you don't like it. You might even be disgusted or troubled by it. You want to resolve the situation as quickly as you can because it makes you uncomfortable. Aversion is the feeling you get when there's a spider crawling up the wall. Aversion is the feeling you get when someone asks you to climb a ladder. Aversion is the feeling you get when a snake slithers across your path. Aversion is a psychological state. It's a head thing.
Fear is something entirely different.
Fear is existential. It exists only in the very depth of your being, the very core of who you are. It's a heart thing. Fear is not something you have to resolve right away because it makes you uncomfortable. It demands immediate action, but it's not up to you to come up with that action. You don't have to create your options in response to fear (to kill the spider with a shoe, to scream like a girl, to drown it in whatever potentially toxic liquid you happen to have handy, etc.); in fear, you just have to choose an option.
See, fear lays your options right out in front of you. True fear catches in your throat and you have to decide only whether to breathe or to swallow. Fear lays the entire option of the universe open before you, and it demand that you choose which way to go. And if you choose nothing at all, the moment passes, but the echo remains.
If you choose nothing in the face of fear, the moment is gone forever. Just like that. This place where you stood on the edge of the universe, where your heart came right up into your throat, where one bold yes in the right direction would have led you into the heart of God...it just disappears. You missed it. The opportunity is gone. Where it once was, there is now only grief.
That's different than how we think of fear. What we call fear doesn't just go away if you don't seize upon it. What we call fear deepens and worsens until it's neurotic and all-controlling and not only can you not breath, but you can't move. That's not fear; that's something else entirely.
True fear is not paralyzing, even though we often say that "fear" is. Fear is, rather, a hesitation. It's this unexpected moment where you instinctively hold your breath, where more than one option is open to you, where you have to consciously decide which way to go, but your brain shuts off and all you have to guide you is your heart. That's fear.
Here's why it matters: because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But if you think fear means what our contemporary culture has brought it to mean, you're in deep trouble.
If you think the fear of the Lord is an aversion to Him, you're in deep trouble. If you think that the fear of the Lord requires you to come up with all sorts of options to address your present situations (to smack God with a toilet paper tube because it's the closest thing handy, to step on Him with a house shoe, to scream like a little girl, to drown the spirit of God in whatever potentially toxic liquid you happen to have handy, etc.), you're in deep trouble. If you think the fear of the Lord is paralyzing, you're in deep trouble.
Because you'll spend your whole life responding to God like He's a spider crawling up the wall.
But if you understand the true nature of fear - that it's this unexpected moment standing on the edge of eternity where your heart catches in your throat and all your options are right there before you and all you have to do is decide whether to breathe or to swallow - then you understand how amazingly holy the fear of the Lord really is.
You understand that it's this moment, this one moment, that sneaks up on you. Again and again and again. And in that one moment, you have to decide. You have to make one bold decision or the moment is gone forever, and it will be replaced by grief. You missed it.
None of this necessarily has to make sense right now; these words are just meant to get you thinking, to get you to begin contemplating fear. Over the next few days, I'll say more about these ideas.