I once lived in a house that was bordered on two sides by a cow pasture. While living there, I discovered that cows are excellent neighbors. They’re friendly, they appreciate the gifts you give them, and they usually stay on their side of the fence unless invited. When I first moved into farm country, cows were big, smelly, unfamiliar creatures that could stir up fear in my suburban heart. I remember (with some embarrassment) the first time I ever encountered them up close and personal.
I was walking across the pasture on my way back to the house with a couple of auto parts in hand that I had removed from an old, junked car at the lower end of the pasture. As I was walking, I began having the sensation that I wasn’t alone. I confirmed that suspicion by looking over my shoulder , where I saw what seemed like a huge herd of animals ( it was really only 7 or 8), just a few hundred feet away, approaching at a trot.
I began walking a bit faster, but a quick look behind told me that they were gaining on me fast, with the animal out in front going at a full run. I panicked and made a bee-line for the fence, getting there just in time to scale the gate and find safety from the vicious animals that were pursuing me. Meanwhile, a group of friends and family were watching from the back porch, laughing hysterically. They had never before seen a grown man chased out of a pasture by a calf !
It was an irrational fear—most fear is—based on my own ignorance of cows and their habits. I soon learned that cows are curious and usually gentle creatures with a “herd” mentality. When one sees something and is driven by curiosity to investigate, it’s not unusual at all for the whole herd to follow, making the group assumption that there is some good reason why we’re all headed this way. When I started going faster, the curious calf started running faster, and the whole group followed suit. I didn’t understand that—I just saw a herd of wild animals on the attack.
Most of our fears are based on the same sort of foundation, whether it is fear of flying, or fear of ethnic groups other than your own, or fear of gumbo. Many of our most paralyzing fears, when viewed from a rational and objective perspective, can seem almost silly at times. As I look back on my life up to this point, many of the things that I feared most weren’t really worthy of all the energy that fear consumed.
There are some situations where fear is a good thing—it sometimes keeps us from doing dumb things that could cause irreparable harm to ourselves and to others. I’m not in the least but afraid of cows, but I have developed a healthy respect for bulls. They can be aggressive and temperamental—and they outweigh me substantially, so in any confrontation the bull is likely to win. Such respect is a positive form of fear that, kept in balance, results in self-preservation.
The Bible speaks in many places of “the fear of God.” We often misinterpret that reference to mean “afraid of” God, rather than the intended “healthy respect for” God. As a result, many of us find it difficult to enjoy a truly intimate, open relationship with God, because we’re expecting Him to smack us around for being imperfect. John understood this phenomenon, and addressed it in 1 John chapter 4. There John reminds us of an important elementary principle of grace: God IS love, and God loves us— even with our imperfections. When we understand that simple fact, we know that, when we abide in Him and in His love, we have no need to fear Him, no matter what we may have done in the past. Christ has already taken our punishment for us, so that we can abide in a perfect, love-filled relationship with God.
It was silly for me, a grown man driven by fear, to run away from a little calf in that pasture. What is even more silly—and tragic—is when we run away from God because we’re afraid of Him.
All He wants to do is put His arms around you and show you how much He loves you.