Today has been a hell of a day. I drew my medicine card just now, after the end of it all, and it came up as a Contrary Blank. I don’t always know what that means, but today it feels like it has to do with the fact that no single card can encompass the day I’ve been through.
Good Fear and Bad Fear
The most interesting part of my day happened during work: I was out at a park when I ran into an awesome black grandmother who was there with her four grandchildren. We got to talking and I asked what she was reading; it turned out to be the Bible. Fitting, no?
Anyway, so I asked her why and I told her about my project. She said that she wanted to understand the Word for herself, that she wanted a deeper connection, and she wanted to understand what God wanted from her. I rephrased this as, “Give it to me straight, Lord!” She laughed.
We both were distracted but I did get to talk to her a little bit more and she told of a friend who I think was an atheist. This friend or acquaintance or whatever asked her why people were supposed to fear God. This wonderful woman said that for her, there were two kinds of fear: the good and the bad. She said that the good kind of fear was the fear of God, that which keeps people in line, so to speak. The bad fear was the fear of man, the fear that we have about our material life, the fear that drives us away from God and confounds our mind with mortal concerns. I told her I was going to quote her on this.
I of course decided to do my research and was richly rewarded. I immediately found this website, which has a wonderful breakdown of the different meanings of the Hebrew word yirah (יִרְאָה). According to this site, “there are three ‘levels’ or types of yirah.”¹ The first is what we normally think of as fear, or what the woman above called “bad fear.” This is the fear that leads us to do things or not do them only because we are worried about punishment or being cast out. The second type is what the grandmother called “good fear,” and “concerns anxiety over breaking God’s law.”¹ The Chofetz Chaim, “a holy book on the Jewish ethics and laws of speech,”² tells that
“even though the fear of God’s punishment may deter us from sin in the short run, by itself it is insufficient for spiritual life, since it is based on an incomplete idea about God.”¹
This is awesome, to me. This brings me to the third type of fear. I’m just going to leave this here:
“The third (and highest) kind of fear is a profound reverence for life that comes from rightly seeing. This level discerns the Presence of God in all things and is sometimes called yirat ha-rommemnut (יִרְאַת הָרוֹמְמוּת), or the ‘Awe of the Exalted.’ Through it we behold God’s glory and majesty in all things. ‘Fearing’ (יִרְאָה) and ‘seeing’ (רָאָה) are linked and united. We are elevated to the level of reverent awareness, holy affection, and genuine communion with God’s Holy Spirit. The love for good creates a spiritual antipathy toward evil, and conversely, hatred of evil is a way of fearing God (Prov. 8:13).”¹
Reverence. Awe. These are the highest level of feeling that we are called to have in the name and in the honor of God. It is not fear in the human sense, but a seeing, a unity, a sense of presence and communion. This is what we need as a whole, is a “spiritual antipathy toward evil.”¹ It is clearly not enough to abstain from evil most of the time. We must actively do good, and cultivate our love of God and goodness so that there is no longer room for evil in our hearts and souls. Just as I vowed to not lash out against others in anger, so too do humans need to make a vow against evil. But we need to have the confidence and power to make such a vow. That power and confidence obviously can come from the Lord, but… I’m getting into a Catch-22 situation. The cycle of evil and suffering must at some point be broken. We are not perfect and we may not be able to leave it forever or in totality, but we can damn sure try.
After all I’ve said above, I don’t feel the need to delve too deeply into Gen 15. Matthew Henry makes plenty of good points, some of which I will touch upon here and the rest can be found here by an interested reader.
Gen 15 begins with God coming to Abram in a vision; God tells Abram, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
At this point, Abram is having what seems to be a crisis of faith, perhaps this time motivated by the fear or concern that he will not be able to do what God asks, especially since he can have no children. God tells him not to worry, and says that He can prove it. Abram listens to God and makes a sacrifice of several animals; vultures come to eat the animals, but Abram drives them away. Here, Matthew Henry writes:
“A watch must be kept upon our spiritual sacrifices.”
— Matthew Henryª
We have to be attentive to God, and drive away distractions. After this, Abram falls into a deep sleep, where God speaks to him and lets him know about the future. God tells Abram that his descendents will suffer, but will suffer only material injury while enjoying spiritual wealth in the form of divine blessings. Abram wakes up to see “a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between [the sacrifices]” (Genesis 15:17). God makes a covenant with Abram, and Matthew Henry here says that “it intimates that God’s covenants with man are made by sacrifice…. And we may know that he accepts our sacrifices, if he kindles in our souls pious and devout affections.”ª
I really want to continue with this, but I have here reached the end, essentially, of Genesis 15. I have some things to say, but I will say them tomorrow. My partner is waiting in the other room and has no idea what I’m doing. She might very well find out soon just what exactly I’ve been up to.
Blessings to all of you, and peace be upon you. Good night.