We live in “phobic” times, don’t we?
Of course, what I mean by that, is: the suffix – “phobic” or “phobia” - which is used to denote a fear of something - seems to be used for everything these days.
I’d imagine there are people out there who label you “pasta-phobic” if you don’t like spaghetti!
Of course, phobias are real. There are the well known phobias... like...
Arachnophobia - the fear of spiders.
Agoraphobia - the fear of crowds.
Acrophobia - the fear of heights.
One that we’re all suffering from and experiencing, to some degree, is Mysophobia - the fear of germs...
We seem to have a fear of everything! Gone are the day’s of “we have nothing to fear but fear itself!”
But all “phobias” aren’t alike. Some have taken on a life of their own in our current culture, haven’t they?
Words like xenophobic, homophobic, and Islamophobic are thrown at us all the time! And there are certainly people who fear people who are different and people who live their lives differently than the norm.
But, some terms that end in “phobic” don’t necessarily refer to a fear at all anymore!
Instead, such terms have come to refer to anyone who does not embrace and promote those things. Which is unbelievably unfair - because there are lots of things in this life that we many not necessarily embrace or promote, but we’re never never labeled as a result.
I’ve never been called Adultra-phobic because I don’t embrace or promote adultery. I’ve never heard of anyone being called divorce-a-phobic because they don’t embrace or promote divorce.
If you believe, for example, that we should have secure borders (as a sovereign nation) and not all illegal immigration... then you’re labeled as xenophobic, even if you love people from other countries... even if you’ve given to the Red Cross to help disaster victims oversees... even if you’ve physically traveled to another land sharing the love of Christ on a self-funded mission trip... giving of yourself to make life better for people who have a different ethnic or national background than your own. If you don’t accept illegal immigration, you’re xenophobic, in this current culture.
All of that, is to say... there’s a phobia for everything, it seems, and everything has a phobia... but being “phobic” doesn’t always mean we have a fear anymore.
Take “Theo-phobia” for instance: Theos is the Greek word for God. Phobia = fear. So, Theo-phobia is (naturally) the fear of God.
Theo-phobia is an actual word, and the Dictionary says it means a “morbid fear or hatred of God.”
But... that sounds off, doesn’t it? I mean, in our scripture lessons for today, we’re told that the fear of the Lord is a very positive and uplifting thing... because it’s the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; 9:10).
Which leads me to argue that being “Theo-phobic” holds a different meaning. Or at least it carries a different connotation for those who follow Christ.
For us, being “Theo-phobic” should mean that we have a healthy awe and reverence of God, that leads us to seek to follow Christ - in humility. That’s the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.
Fear of the Lord should never be a morbid fear of Him, or hatred of God. You and I should be so filled with a love for God, that it motivates us to serve and share, both who and Whose we are!
I am unapologetically Theo-phobic. I fear God, not because I think He’s unfair, unloving, ungracious, or punitive. I fear God, because I know He blesses those who obey his Word. It’s in my best interest to please Him. When I serve the Lord, He is glorified and honored and blessed... and so am I. It is the ultimate win-win situation.
Of course, I think we Presbyterians, as people of Reformed faith, have an advantage here: because one of the Theological Pillars of our faith, is what we call the “Perseverance of the Saints.” It’s knowing that, in Christ, we are eternally secure... that you and I have been redeemed, once and for all! It is finished. And that knowledge, based on simply receiving the gift of salvation... is crucial in order to avoid having an irrational or morbid fear of God.
Works-based-salvation folks often are terrified of God and of dying. Their fear of God is irrational because they do not believe in the promise of Christ for the everlasting life that He guarantees to the believer (John 3:16). They tend to believe you can lose your salvation... that you can only maintain your salvation by working it out. They believe in a form of legalism... do this, get that.
And legalism almost always produces an unhealthy view of God... because legalism grows from fear... and fear tells us over and over again that we’re not good enough, not “holy” enough, not “righteous” enough - that we’re some kind of “phobic” - instead of the loving and accepting people we truly are - and that our lives show us to be.
But even good Presbyterians sometimes get caught up in keeping rules, rather than receiving grace - and we end up demanding that others keep the rules, too... instead of striving to love, as God loves us. We sometimes forget that we’re saved “through grace by faith.” We sometimes miss the spirit of the law, by demanding the maintenance of the law... because we allow fear, instead of grace, to rule our hearts.
But the Good News is: “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).
The grace of God - experienced in the Love of God - is what produces a healthy view of God. Christ is worthy of our worship and praise and love... because he’s proven his love for us, even loving us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). That certainly proves God’s love for us, and should forever calm our fears.
Do you trust Christ to keep his promises? Do you love God, and the things of God? Are you in awe of His majesty? Do you revere Him? Is your aim in life to bring honor, and glory, and blessings to the Lord?
If so, you have a healthy case of Theo-phobia. The Good News is... it’s both chronic AND contagious.
But only if we live it... for all to see.