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Fear & Joy

As we gathered as a staff this week, I asked everyone to consider how fear and joy might be compatible, even working together, despite the fact that they can be seen as opposite. One might think they can’t, but the truth is, they form a type of paradox. In the right situation, an encounter with fear may create a greater sense of happiness, albeit temporary. Knowing this a person can create a situation where fear and happiness are manufactured — finding happiness by creating an encounter with fear.

To see this at work, all one needs to see is the appeal of horror movies and death-defying sports. From wingsuit flying (which makes you a bit like a flying squirrel) and free solo climbing near sheer cliffs, people are trying to find happiness by manufacturing fear. Take the free solo act in sports. Solo climbing means that you attempt to climb a rock face with out the help of a rope remaining taut. With this type of climbing, you could create a challenge in which you attempt to summit a face without having to rely on the rope at all. If you do fall, then you have to start over. There is nothing that prevents a climber from harnessing up just in case the unthinkable happens. A free solo climb has no back up rope at all! If you fall in that case… well, you’re most likely dead. The only reason someone would do this is to say you did it, and perhaps (I suggest) create a super close encounter with death, and with fear. When that happens (and you succeed) the feeling of happiness and euphoria is out of this world, I imagine.

In spite of all this effort, however, many of these athletes are not happy; not enduringly happy anyway. They are often sort of a mess personally as well. They have worked so hard and attained incredible encounters with fear and happiness, yet they can remain quite sad and lost.

Now take fear and happiness in the Bible. In 2 Samuel 6, we find King David encountering the greatest kind of fear and the most euphoric type of happiness in worship, all within the same chapter. The ark of the covenant is brought back to the city in an unworthy fashion and someone dies as a result. David is scared, as you might imagine. He wants nothing to do with the ark for the closeness it brought him to God also brought judgment and wrath. He soon learns, though, that fear of God is no reason to keep Him at bay. I feared my father as a kid, but it wasn’t like I did not know he loved me and would protect and keep me at all costs. David learns this is true with our heavenly Father as well. The ark (or the power and presence of God) isn’t the issue, and fear doesn’t negate joy. It was sin. (In this case, it was the unworthy manner that the ark of the covenant was handled). Sin is the great disruptor of happiness, not fear. For with that same fear of God in place, David is able to worship God in a very undignified-let-your-hair-down kind of way. The trumpeters trumpeted, the singers sang, and David danced all with a joy that must have been out of this world.

What does this mean for us? I believe what we all have to learn is that fear of God does not suppress joy but enhances it. Fear and happiness may seem contradictory, but they form a paradox — holding one another together. We find that perfect paradox when the fear we have is of God and his might, AND the happiness we have is the joy we experience in being in His presence.

God bless you all!