Healthy Fear versus Unhealthy Fear
“How can there be healthy fear?” you say.
Fear is defined as:
1. an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. A state marked by this emotion.
2. Anxious concern.
3. A profound reverence and awe especially towards God
4. A reason for alarm
Two Kinds of Healthy Fear
There are two kinds of healthy fear. One we learn about as children. I call it fear of danger. This is a healthy fear that children learn from their parents as they are nurtured and taught. Children are taught how to cross the street in a safe way because of a healthy fear of cars. They are taught not to touch things like hot stoves and glass jars that could harm them. Children are shown signs of potential danger and warned to obey certain safety rules to protect them from harm.
I’ve viewed experiments that show children learning to fear based on their mother’s reactions to situations. When children sense their parents’ fears, they mimic them. When their caregivers do not seem concerned, the children do not get concerned. It seems that children are rarely born with fear built into their personalities. Experiences teach children to know when fear is a healthy expression of emotion.
Children who grow up in a healthy environment in their preschool years are by and large less fearful than those who grow up in a less healthy environment. Those fearless children grow up learning how to recognize danger. They learn to look both ways when crossing the street. They learn to stay close to parents in an unfamiliar location. They learn not to lean over fences that are put there to keep people safe. This fear of danger is what I mean by healthy fear. It’s more of a discerning of situations than fear as we understand it. They can recognize danger as a reason for alarm.
The other healthy fear is a profound reverence or awe of God. This kind of fear is understanding the grandeur of God; how powerful He is and how
righteous, pure and holy He is. This fear recognizes that God knows everything and is able to meet out both justice and mercy. It also causes those who know Him to worship and adore Him.
Both kinds of fear are based on a healthy respect of the power of God or danger. Both God and dangerous situations can destroy us if we do not act carefully around them. God is not dangerous to those who obey Him and He deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. Things like electricity are good, useful and powerful. It needs to be treated with a healthy fear and a proper respect. It cannot be taken for granted without there being consequences. The same can be said for God. He is good and true to His word and very powerful. It is wise to treat Him with the utmost respect because going against His counsel can have dangerous consequences.
Unhealthy fear is in the category of anxious concern. Unhealthy anticipation of harm can cripple us. This is the subject of many theses on the subject of paranoia and phobias in mental health issues. Many mental illnesses are caused by an unhealthy amount of fear that has taken root. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is an example of an unhealthy fear.
The fear that makes us unhealthy is based on something that is not true or is no longer true. As in the case of a war veteran, his life is no longer in danger when he is at home with his family in his peaceful homeland. Yet the amount of trauma he experienced in battle remains stuck in his brain. Likewise, a woman who has experienced sexual assault may remain fearful of all men even when in safe situations.
It is a loving parent who sets up a healthy environment for a child. Yet children do experience pain sometimes and that same parent can bring healing and comfort to the child in pain. So too does God offer comfort and healing to the one who has experienced pain and He also offers healing. When fear causes anxiety, God is ready and able to help to remove the lies that cause unnecessary fear.
To all those who experience fear based on lies, I pray you will find God to be a good parent, more than willing to bring comfort, healing and hope.