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Subterranean terror

Homer's Scream

The first human emotion after the fall was fear - Gen 3:10

The first human emotion after birth is fear.

The most common biblical command is 'Fear not'.

Which gives you the idea that fear is a major part of our emotional life as fallen creatures.  But of course, we hide it under a thousand pseudonyms.  Here are a few phrases we say all the time.  In italics is what we really mean. 


I'm not mechanical/sporty/mathematical

I am insanely threatened by this challenge to my competence


I'm not really a people person

The thought of others getting close terrifies me


I'm not much of an admin person

Facing up to daily responsibilities fills me with dread


I'm not that tactile

I'm terrified of human touch


I don't like people making a fuss over me

It feels intolerably dangerous to have attention


I'm more of an ordered person

I must protect myself from the chaos


I'm just shy, that's all

One wrong step in public and the embarassment could kill me


I don't go for flashy clothes

I'm petrified of having the eyes of others on me


I like to look good

I'm afraid of being invisible


I'm quite competitive

I can't bear to be a loser


I don't like all that competitive stuff

I can't bear being appraised


I like to chew over my decisions

I'm petrified of doing it wrong


I tend to decide on the spot

I'm petrified good things will be taken away


I'm just a practical person

I fear mystery


I'm not really a practical person

I'm terrified of being shown up in the 'real world'


I'm gay - it's just the way I am

I'm terrified of entering a woman (on many levels)


I'm lesbian - it's just the way I am

I'm terrified of being entered by a man (on many levels)



Corrections and/or additions welcome




0 thoughts on “Subterranean terror

  1. Bobby Grow

    Wow, your last two are quite explicit; unless that is just some Aussie idiom that us "Yanks" are too dense to pick up on ;-) . . .

  2. Pete Deaves

    Yes, many of these resonate.

    The volume of commands to "Fear not" show that fear is something we're all expected to experience. But how do we go about learning to "not fear"? God's gracious reminder to "Fear not for I AM with you" provides the necessary antidote. So "I'm quite competitive" or "I don't like all that competitive stuff" can both be met with, "You are deeply loved and accepted in Jesus and have nothing to prove." Then we can hand over those feelings and leave them with him - and instead allow the great reality of how loved we are to shape our attitudes and thoughts.

    1 John 4:18 is helpful - "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." So those times I become/am made aware of my fear can then turn into opportunities to consider and reconsider God's great love for me. Thus we can move from fear to greater confidence in God's unfathomable love.

    And in John 17:26 Jesus says, "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." So at this moment Jesus is continuing his work of making known to us God's name (his nature/character) in order that God's love will be in us - driving out all fear.

    I fear that's not all that could be said, however...

  3. codepoke

    For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong,--H.L. Mencken

    I don't know. Just sayin'.

  4. Glen

    Nice quote. It's a fair cop for some of them. But my overall intention was not to simplify but to complicate. A person says simply 'I happen to like mulling over my decisions'. But very often it's part of a terror-fuelled strategy to avoid messing up at all costs. etc etc. And once the underlying fear is granted it becomes a much more complex matter of addressing deep fears (rather than simply wishing someone hurried up and made a particular decision).

    But yes, in the attempt to put the fear into a pithy sentence there's much danger of over-simplification. The message I'd like people to take away is not that people are simple nor that I've nailed the root causes of all our ills but that fears run very deep and we should push beyond presenting issues to subterranean terror. And then it gets really messy...

  5. Glen

    Yes indeed Pete - perfect love drives out all fear. As we face up to what's really going on in our souls - subterranean terror! - then we can actually apply the gospel to ourselves *in* the depths of that fear - rather than just working at the more superficial level of 'I'm not an organised person'.

    I pluck that example out of thin air of course... ;-)

  6. Tim V-B

    Easy solutions are things like "try this plan to organise yourself" or "don't like your image? boost your self-esteem with your career" or "concentrate on your strengths".

    The gospel says "Let me tell you that you are deeply loved by God in Christ. Now let's see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Messy, isn't it? Let me tell you that you are deeply loved by God in Christ."

  7. codepoke

    Thanks, Glen.

    The thing is personality is not sin, and personalities are different. You've talked about personality before, and you seem to have a nasty taste in your mouth on the subject. You've pointed out aggressively that personality typing can be used to mask simple sin and this post seems to come from the same ballpark.

    Taking your example about slow deciders, that's a personality thing. A slow decider will decide slowly whether to have chocolate chip or strawberry. That slowness is a God-given gift, and every team needs a slow decider. Fast deciders tend to take whatever incomplete they've accrued to that point and make the best decision they can with it. Slow deciders wait for more data and only accept as proof things that are truly causal. Slow deciders see through superficial correspondence that might prematurely convince a fast decider. Slow deciders save the world trillions of dollars every year.

    And yet slow deciders have a propensity to freezing when afraid. They sin when afraid differently than fast deciders, and you accurately identify that tendency.

    The irritant is when you make fear the root cause of slow decision making. It's not. Slow decision making is the result of God wiring a person differently from everyone around them. Slow deciders sin slowly, but they also live out godly love slowly and carefully. When a slow decider is functioning with complete freedom in the Spirit, they are going to annoy their fast deciding friends if they happen to be jumping the gun because of their fears.

    It's just at the moment the fast decider is most in need of restraint that the fast decider will pull out this casual and causal relating of fear to slowness. It's just when the slow person is being most spiritual that this pronouncement will be pulled out against him.

    I love that you're addressing subterranean fear, and I agree that different personalities sin due to fear in different ways. Most of us don't realize how much fear steers us, so drive on with the message.

  8. Glen

    Hi Code,
    Maybe one way of thinking about it is: What personality type is always the one called for in every situation? (Obviously there is none)
    Or put it another way: Did Jesus always react to situations according to some perfect type? (ENFP in all likelihood ;-))

    Well, no. Think of Jesus with Mary and Martha in John 11. They both have lost their brother and they both come to Him with exactly the same grievance - effectively, "Why weren't you here..!" Jesus responds to Martha with theology, He responds to Mary with tears. If it was us we'd respond to both with theology or to both with tears. And then we'd say 'Well that's just my personality, God's wired me that way and thank God that if I strike out with one of them there will be a more appropriate comforter for her to make up for my inflexibility.'

    Which is just a way of saying that our personalities are all too rigid. And when we find them to be rigid - e.g. when we just can't make a snap decision when it's really called for - then there's a sure sign that terrors are lurking.

    And that's what I'm encouraging us to probe. When a person is rigid within their type (and we all are to a great degree) there is the opportunity to explore some paralysing fears that often masquerade as 'how God wired me.'

    But I do believe we are wired differently, gifted differently, God loves diversity and all that. I just get worried when we get stuck in our ways and then blame 'personality'. If we can't do what's called for in a situation it's not our 'personality' stopping us, it's our fears.

  9. codepoke

    > there is the opportunity to explore some paralysing fears that often masquerade as ‘how God wired me'


    > If we can’t do what’s called for in a situation it’s not our ‘personality’ stopping us, it’s our fears.


    If you cannot open the mayonnaise jar with your left hand, it might just be because you're right handed - not because you fear the mayo.

    I've known lazy (and I believe laziness is much more commonly a problem than fear) and fearful people who throw up their personalities as a get out of work free card. That's sin, or at least really wimpy. I'm with you that we need to explore some of our paralyzing fears. Being paralyzed is bad.

    Saying that an introvert cannot address a crowd of 500 effectively when "that's what the moment calls for" because of sinful fear is just wrong. If you tell the foot that he could share his vision with the body if only he weren't mired in his sinful fear, you're doing the foot a horrible disservice.

  10. codepoke

    This "reply to reply" feature is weird. I have no idea how my comment ended up above the one to which I was replying, and yet not as a reply to any specific comment.

  11. eclexia

    As often happens here, I find myself agreeing with part of the heart of what you are saying, but disagreeing with the details of how you expound it. I agree that it is wrong to give in to a deterministic, resigned view of our personality that says, "I can't ever change" or determines ahead of time every thing that we can or cannot do for the kingdom.

    However, I think there are times when we really can't do what's called for in a situation and it's not due to fear, but due to reality. I cannot do what's called for to save myself, because of very real limitations. My handicapped friend cannot do what's called for when it comes to feeding her children.

    There are times the Lord supernaturally enables people to step out and do something that is clearly and dramatically his doing apart from their abilities. But more often than not, I see the Lord using real people as His real hands and feet, in accordance with how He has created them to function.

    There are real limitations in how quickly I can think and decide, because my brain moves literally and linearly through many steps before it can reach a conclusion. I don't wear that as a badge that says, "count me out of thinking and interacting deeply", but I have learned over the years to accept the realities that are and think the way I think in how I relate to the Lord and how I bless and encourage and give to His body.

    I have, for example, pondered this post for several days before responding, because my brain had to chew on it the way it does, and sometimes that takes more time than others. I don't think slowly because I'm afraid of getting it wrong when I speak or to annoy people or have some kind of advantage over the next person. It really is how my brain works. I'm helped by being around people whose brain processes more 3-dimensionally and quickly. And they are helped by the way I think and do things, too.

    The thing that has kept coming back to me as I've pondered what you are saying here is something I read recently from John Newton:

    "In my imagination, I sometimes fancy I could [create] a perfect minister. I take the eloquence of ___, the knowledge of ___, the zeal of ___, and the pastoral meekness, tenderness, and piety of ___. Then, putting them all together into one man, I say to myself, "This would be a perfect minister." Now there is One, who, if he chose to, could actually do this; but he never did it. He has seen fit to do otherwise, and to divide these gifts to every man severally as he will."

    While it may at times be fear, I think it's not necessarily always fear that limits the eloquence of one, the zeal of another, the tenderness of another.

  12. eclexia

    (I'm not sure why my comment got placed where it did, above some older comments...)

    It occurred to me right after I submitted it that maybe the difference is what I do with my limitations/inadequacies/weaknesses. Do I use them to sit back and detach myself from a situation which is messy. Or do I use those very weaknesses to draw nearer to others, in relationship, in the midst of the messiness, even where I find myself unable to "do what's called for in a situation".

    Perhaps it's more about staying connected to the Lord and to His body than it is about rising to occasions and always being able to do what's called for....

    Thanks for thinking through things like this. I find it helpful, even when I come out disagreeing with you.

  13. Glen

    Hi all, sorry about the 'reply to reply' feature - it's a bit confusing. I'll look into whether I can turn it off. My understanding is that if you never click on reply but just use the box at the bottom it goes to the bottom, but if you click 'reply' on any of the comments it will slot in under them. But perhaps you've already tried that and it's still messing up.... sorry.

    To code and eclexia - very helpful caveats. I say things in sweeping generalisations and you're right to raise cautions. Let me say that none of my examples were about public speaking or physical weaknesses or disabilities and I'd never think of putting them in these categories. Let me also say that my example of a person who 'puts off decisions' was not intended to be a rebuke to careful ruminators. Definitely those who chew things over are a gift to the snap reactors. What I had in mind was not thorough reflection but procrastination.

    But as someone who's a bit of a mental sprinter (who gets knackered after about 6 seconds of exertion) I confess that some of this is the gift of God, to be able to make links quickly. But a *lot* of how it works out in practice is a sinful avoidance of mess and complexity and nuance and a proud desire to be bold and to make quick and surprising connections. (Perhaps even this post is a good instance!)

    But even though the examples I listed in the post were not strictly about 'speed of thought' I'd still encourage everyone - marathon runners and sprinters alike - to examine the fears and the pride that pervert and shape even God-given gifts. Even the person with an undeniable charismatic gift of administration would do well at some point to think about how fears have shaped their use (and non-use) of this gift of God.

    I'm not saying that every 'can't' is a willful and fear-driven 'won't'. My examples in the post were not anywhere near as blanket as that. And I fully acknowledge all sorts of mitigating circumstances (even though I admit my language is stronger at times in the post - I'm certainly not advocating being this brusque with people the next time they mention their dislike of admin!).I'm more trying to push us to examine what we too often put down to 'temperament' without questioning too deeply.

    And eclexia's point about having our inadequacies draw us to closer dependence on the Lord and His body is exactly right. Too often our inabilities turn us in on ourselves rather than outwards and this is always fear driven.

  14. eclexia

    Thanks, Glen. Your clarifications and further points here are helpful to me. Again, I appreciate the way you challenge my thinking on these kinds of topics and concerns.

  15. Glen

    I've been thinking more and more about your point that it's what we *do* with our weaknesses/inabilities/fears that's the big issue - does it drive us to greater openness and dependence or shut us down and turn us inwards.

    I very much appreciate the challenges too.


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