Obviously, there are a lot of concepts in The Bible and the Christian faith that seem like contradictions. It’s definitely hard to navigate most of them, and it’s definitely easy to see how there can be so many differing viewpoints, from the regular church attender, to the volunteer Sunday school teacher, to the professional theologian.
One of the contradictions I recently noticed was the way I have addressed fear as it relates to the multi-faceted issues regarding homosexuality and The Church.
I realized when I reread a previous blog that discussed fear, I had overlooked a pretty significant aspect of fear.
The fear of the Lord is a pretty significant theological concept presented throughout the entirety of The Bible, and I failed to incorporate this concept into my thinking and writing, so I noticed it may have seemed as overlooked as it really was.
Psalm 111 tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In Exodus, Pharoah brought devastation and disaster upon his country because he did not fear God. Paul instructs us to work toward complete holiness because we fear God (2 Corinthians 7:1). Romans 3 teaches that the chief sin is having no fear of God at all. Even Jesus instructs us to fear only God, because He can destroy both our body and soul in Hell (Matthew 10:28).
So how do we reconcile that with the quote I used?
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.“- 1 John 4:18
If God is love, perfect love, then why should we fear him?
Christians should fear God because he holds our eternity in His hands. If we want to be in right relationship with God, we have to love God, and Jesus teaches that if we love God we will obey his commands. If we connect those dots, we can see that disobedience to God and His commands indicates a lack of love for God and lack of submission to God, which indicates that our relationship with God is not right. In that case, we should fear God, because we should fear eternal separation and Hell. There’s a common phrase that’s often thrown around: “Only God can judge me.” People often throw that around like it’s a good thing. Like we shouldn’t care about how people judge us because only God can judge us. If you ask me, that’s not very comforting. Although God is more loving and accepting than any person could ever be, He is also a harsher judge than any person could ever be, and His judgement carries more consequence than that of any person. We should fear that judgement, and therefore fear God, and therefore make sure our hearts and actions align with His commands, which are extensions of His character. The fear of the Lord should instill us a deeply ingrained honor, respect and reverence for God and prevent us from believing and acting in ways that are contradictory to His truth. Of course no one is perfect, but there’s a difference between a man after God’s own heart and a man after whatever heart he chooses.
What about all those other hundreds of verses that tell us not to fear and not be afraid?
I think The Bible teaches us that fear of Lord is much different than fear of the world or people. The many, many verses in The Bible that address fear teach us that although what God calls us to do- or not to do- may cause us fear, but that right relationship with God results in obedience to God. Right relationship with God results in deeper understanding of God’s character, and the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. This enables us to trust who God says He is and who He says we are so that we can do all those things He tells us to do- and not do all those things He tells us not to do- and to not be afraid of ashamed to tell the world what we’re doing in God’s name. If we really believe that what we’re doing is part of God’s plan, we should fear God if we choose not to do it, and we shouldn’t have to fear the response of “the world” when we do.
I hate to always go back to the whole Young Life thing, because at this point it’s just like whatever, but I try to focus on my own experience because that’s all I have, and obviously that’s all part of my experience. Here’s what I meant about fear in that situation:
In every meeting and interaction I had with Young Life and their staff while coming out and after, there was a clear message that I should not tell anyone about Young Life’s policies and not tell people that I was terminated just for being gay. They went to great lengths to ensure that they did not reveal their policy throughout the process. The Young Life staff indicated that if I were to tell people about what they believe and what they were doing, I would be the one that wasn’t acting like Jesus. I’m not sure how that works. The whole idea of, “What we’re doing is what Jesus would do, and what we believe is in line with what Jesus would teach, but if you tell people about it, you’re the one not acting like Jesus.” (Not a quote, just a summary of what I think is the mentality). So when I addressed the issue of fear as it related to that, it seems to make sense to me. God would never tell us to be quiet about our beliefs and actions; in fact, everything in The Bible supports doing the exact opposite. It sucks that they have to be afraid of how people will and do respond when they become educated about their policies and actions, but that kind of fear is not the fear of the Lord. Even the fear that they could lose funding, which would diminish their ability to do ministry, shouldn’t limit them from sharing their beliefs and actions openly. Even the fear that the government can and will someday limit their exercise of religious freedom to eliminate the right to discriminate based on sexual orientation doesn’t justify lying to students and parents about what they’re getting themselves into when they choose to drink their particular flavor of Kool-Aid. That is fear, but it’s not the fear of the Lord. That’s the kind of fear that confidence in the Lord should help us overcome so we can live in the light and tell the truth about our beliefs and actions.
I also mentioned that I know what it’s like to live in fear, so I’ll try to expand on that, for education’s sake. Again, this is just me, but it is always surprising when I hear the stories of other gay Christians and they sound almost identical to mine.
There’s a fear of simply being gay. Everything I heard and thought about gay people was negative, and I didn’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be effeminate, or less masculine, or change my lifestyle in any way, or have my integrity questioned, or be excluded from ministry, or any of that. Knowing that some of that would be inevitable and non-negotiable created a fear that I lived with for quite a while. That fear literally almost killed me. As a youth worker, I’ve been trained to handle situations in which children question harming themselves or committing suicide. You know it’s serious when they have a plan for how to carry it out, because that indicates that they’re really dwelling on it. When I realized I was actually making a plan to escape all the stress, anxiety and fear caused incongruities in my body, psyche, spirit and heart, I knew it was time to get help. The human body’s most basic function is survival, and God created it that way for a reason. A fear that would drive someone to taking their own life is also not the fear of the Lord.
Homophobia is not the fear of the Lord. Homophobia manifests itself in a lot of different ways. When the Area Director told me I shouldn’t put a gay lifestyle on display, parents wouldn’t want me around their kids, coming out would affect my business, etc., those are all common fear tactics. Trust me, if you think my internalized homophobia hadn’t caused me to consider all those things in the months leading up to my coming out, and that they hadn’t been a factor that prevented me from beginning to address the issue, you would be wrong. When people actually know someone, like people actually know me, they are very unlikely to allow homophobia to allow any of those things to happen. Does it happen all the time? Sure, but I haven’t experienced it much. I’ve thought about writing a blog regarding tips about how to handle someone coming out to you. That list would include not using the first time someone finally trusts you enough to share that they’re gay to attempt to reinforce common fears they’ve already considered a million times.
When it comes to the fear of the Lord, that should be the kind of fear that drives us to pursue righteousness. God’s love leads us to repentance, and fear of the Lord is also an appropriate motivator that can lead us to repentance. Repentance means not just turning away from sin but turning toward God; it requires a change of heart that leads to a change in actions. No one can repent of being gay, because it’s not something that can be changed. Of course many would debate that, but is anyone listening to them anymore? So then again it comes down to the act. If people can’t repent of being gay, then they must need to repent of their expression of their sexuality, whatever that looks like. Then it just comes down to whether or not God requires repentance from all expressions of homosexual behavior. There are pretty much two sides to that, and it is what it is. What’s interesting, though, is that it’s not really about the act, it’s about whatever side you take on that question. If it was really the case that only the act is sinful, then it wouldn’t make sense to excluded people from ministry before that act is committed. The sin is not about the act for most people; the sin is the audacity to believe something that’s contradictory to whatever is expected by organizations and people and whatever. Fear is used to prevent people from even exploring the idea in a way that might lead to a change of opinions on the issue. That’s not the fear of the Lord either. James 1:3 tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, and it’s hard to test our faith when we’re completely unwilling to consider considering the idea that we might be wrong on a particular subject.
Not every fear is the fear of the Lord. It may be hard to distinguish, but I think it comes down to the purpose behind the fear. The fear of the Lord always leads us to more righteous relationship with God, which is always a positive, healthy, beautiful thing. Fear created internally or externally through social expectation, culture, and whatever else is just unhealthy and results in a lot of negativity.
When we are submitted to God and acting in obedience, we shouldn’t have to fear telling others about our beliefs and actions; in fact, we should be unashamed to do so.