Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble away on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Did Jesus Fear?” in under 700 words. Heh.
Based on a Biblical text (1 John 4:18) someone might suggest that since perfect love casts out fear then therefore Jesus had no fear.
Technically, this is a philosophical question because the Bible never says if Jesus feared or didn’t fear so making a dogmatic statement either way could be dangerous. So what we have to do is examine the ethics of fear and then examine the possibility of Christ fearing.
Question one: Is there anything wrong with fear?
Well, we need to define our terms. If a car is flying down the street at a toddler running out to get a ball you might rightly feel fear. Or a child who has previously been burnt rightly feels fear when they see something hot. That being the case, a person might rightly feel fear while thinking about some impending event (fire burning or a car ready to hit a child). It winds up being a mechanism that warns people of harm before the harm actually occurs—it’s actually helpful for self-preservation and survival.
But if that’s built-in, as it were, then we might rightly expand that to include things like fearing the amount of dairy you will be eating tomorrow since you know you are lactose intolerant. Otherwise, humans would just keep doing the same things without any concern for how it affects them.
Now, the Bible also speaks about wisdom beginning with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33) and that seems to be actual afraid-ness when the Lord shows up. Maybe that’s just a reverential concern when you realize your own finitude before the infinite—but doesn’t that sound like fear in general? Indeed, the Bible also mentions a right fear of the coming judgment (Hebrews 10:27) but it is a fear that is mingled with love, respect and trust (Psalms 130:3-4) so somehow there is an afraid-ful/awed expectation of what’s coming even if you’re confident in the end.
Question two: What is John talking about?
John is no dullard and would know his Bible so whatever he’s talking about stands in direct opposition to perfect love. None of the fears I’ve listed in this post stand apart from love. After all, you might fear for the child because you do love her. And you might fear the fire because you love your hand. But in 1 John 4:16 John makes a statement about knowledge (we have come to know) about trust (and believed the love) on an object (which God has for us) and even the way love is perfected (so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment). It’s in this light that he says fear stands in opposition to love.
Did Christ not trust God? Did he deny the future Day of Judgment? Well, in both cases the answer would be no so he didn’t “fear” in that sense but he sure seemed to be a man who was concerned about his impending death (Luke 22:39-46) and I don’t know how to describe that event other than fear even if it was coupled with confidence (Psalm 22).
So did Jesus fear?
Depends on what you mean by fear. Did he have times he was afraid? Sure seems like it. Otherwise he’d be careless. Did he have times where he didn’t trust in God and which is what 1 John might be talking about? Nope.