And a great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. Acts 5:11
Our dog is afraid of a lot of things. He hides from the laundry basket and is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, even when it’s not running. When we’re out for a walk however, crossing the highway, he sprints directly at speeding cars. We keep him on a leash, so we’ve so far been able to prevent him from actually catching a car in the face at 60 mph. He has no concept of the danger and thus, no fear. I’d like to teach him the danger, but I’ve yet to come up with a lesson that doesn’t end up with him as roadkill. He’s a sweet dog, but he’s an idiot and his lack of healthy fear could be lethal.
As Christians, we sometimes have a similar problem. We like to paint a picture of God only as a loving, gracious grandfather. We say things like, God has forgiven us and because of his grace, we don’t need to live in fear of our failures. There is truth there. Grace means that God loves us and wants what’s best for us, even though we can never earn his goodness. Mercy means we’re forgiven for all time, past, present, and future. We can’t do anything that will make God love us any more or any less. Where we go wrong though, is in assuming that this means the strings between action and consequence have been severed here in this life.
In today’s passage though, Ananias and Sapphira found out differently, when God put them to death for lying about how much money they gave to the apostles. Perhaps they were forgiven in the afterlife, but their actions had terrible repercussions in this life.
One of the worst things for an addict is to forget the lessons of past mistakes, losing the fear of consequences. It’s not uncommon for the addict in recovery to look back with fondness at his days of using. We used for a reason . . . it felt really good. Years after we get sober, we tend to forget the horrible pain we caused ourselves and we fail to maintain an appropriate fear of consequences.
Some fears are healthy though. If I desire to remain in recovery, it’s useful to remain afraid of the painful results of destructive behavior. When I lose my healthy fear, I’m as foolish as my dog, chasing speeding cars, and the outcome is likely to be just as disastrous.