Fear is mentioned more than once in today’s readings. Fear is even what we are commanded to feel: “You shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:14).
Now I personally have found no shortage of things to fear lately. To be an adult is to see how thin are the fortifications that enclose all that we care about. The anxiety has only grown as our constitutional democracy seems more precarious with each passing week. Most of us, I suspect, look forward to worship as a refuge from fear, and so we shy away from the places that tell us how fearsome God is.
Nevertheless, the Bible does confront us with a Lord who is frightening. Just before the commandment quoted above, the verse reads, “You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.” Humans who think they have nothing to fear are emboldened to mock and bully those who need their help the most.
It is also written, “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever” (Ps. 19.9). The implication is that other fears are not similarly “pure” (or “clean”). It is easy to denounce someone in a mixture of terror and outrage, but such fear is never pure. We would rather defend ourselves by denouncing a whole class of people than seek them out and learn their hearts.
Jesus’ announcement of the Last Judgment is two things at once. To hear that the Son of Man is coming to judge the living and the dead is hopeful news for us all. It is also terrifying, for who of us can be satisfied that we have treated “the least of these” (Mt. 25:45) as we are bound to serve Jesus himself?
But even as we fear, we learn to receive with gratitude; we learn to hope, and yes, to love.
Augustine and Culture Seminar