Yesterday, James Dobson, a conservative Christian leader and founder of Focus on the Family, endorsed Donald J. Trump for president of the United States. Dobson had previously supported Senator Ted Cruz, a man whose family life and conservatism aligned nicely with Dobson’s own. Because of this, Dobson’s endorsement could surprise some; it’s more than ironic that a man who has devoted his life to restoring the American family would endorse a man who has contributed so significantly to its destruction, on both a personal and professional level.
Because of this, some see Dobson’s endorsement as hypocritical. But I think this answer is too easy. Dobson explains his motivation for endorsing Trump:
All I can tell you is that we have only two choices, Hillary or Donald. Hillary scares me to death. And, if Christians stay home because he isn’t a better candidate, Hillary will run the world for perhaps eight years. The very thought of that haunts my nights and days.
No, Dobson is not a hypocrite; he is a man who has misplaced his fear.
We often talk about misplaced trust—what happens when someone’s abused your loyalty or let you down–but we rarely talk about misplaced fear or what happens when we fear the wrong things. But even if we don’t talk about it, the Scripture does. In fact, the entire book of Proverbs is built on the question of who and what we should fear. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Proverbs opens in chapter one; it then proceeds to build the rest of the book—whether it relates to relationships, money, work, or citizenship –on this fundamental question: Who are you going to fear? Are you going to fear the LORD or are you going to fear man?
The reason we must fear the right things is because when we fear someone we give them power over us. When we fear someone, we attribute to them the power to destroy us. So that when we fear a particular candidate, we give to them the shaking-in-our-boots kind of awe that should only be attributed to the LORD. When we fear a particular candidate, we place them far above their status as creatures who are made from the same dust that we are. And ultimately when we fear a particular candidate, we will end up placing our trust in whoever promises to rescue us from them.
This is why the fear of another person is often accompanied by adulation of the opposing candidate or party. Our fear of the one can effectively blind us to the faults the other. To the extent we vilify one, we will deify the other. And in both cases, we attribute too much power to mere mortals.
This is not to downplay the significance of leadership. Proverbs has a lot to say about that, too. But ultimately we must not place our fear (or trust) in another human being. “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” Jesus reminds us “Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul.”
So how do we reorient our fear? How do we make sure it is not misplaced? How can we make decisions from “fear of the LORD” and not from the fear of man?
First, we reorient our fear by remembering the truth about Who is in charge. The truth about Who raises up leaders and Who sets them down. The truth about Who alone gives life and health and peace. The truth about Who we are ultimately responsible to.
Just as a scout uses the North Star to find his way, we must be guided by the fear of the LORD. We must orient ourselves to fear him who alone is to be feared. And by doing this, by directing our awe upward, we’re actually able to make better decisions about the things of earth. When we fear the LORD instead of fearing other human beings, our minds clear up and we can engage the complexity of the world from a place of faith and wisdom.
In other words, reorienting our fear dials back our emotions so we can get our head on straight for a moment.
When we are driven by fear of other people, we end up acting like a trapped animal, responding out of instinct to the threat immediately in front of us. We either fight or flee. In the case of politics, we either come out swinging, demonizing the opposing candidate and anyone who would question our position. Or we flee. We remove ourselves from conflict entirely, refusing to engage the conversation. We hole away and are of no good to anyone.
In both cases, the fear of man makes us less than God has made us to be.
But the fear of the LORD restores us. It makes us wise. It makes us strong. It makes us loving. When we fear the LORD, we have the courage to stand our ground because we find our security in Him, not in a political candidate or the approval of others. We neither attack nor flee. We stand quietly and speak confidently. And we can listen. When we fear the LORD, we can hear the concerns and objections of others. We can learn.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” Proverbs 1:7 promises, “but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This is why people who are motivated by the fear of man shut down conversations; they cannot risk learning something about their candidate that would undermine their confidence in him. People who fear the LORD, however, can listen to other points of view because they are not threatened by new information or a new way of looking at a problem. They know that their trust does not reside in a particular candidate but in the LORD himself.
So I’m wondering: How would this election cycle change for us if we were motivated by “the fear of the LORD” instead “the fear of Hillary Clinton” or “the fear of Donald Trump”? What would change if we were kept awake at night by our concern to properly reverence the LORD and not our fear of a certain candidate? How would our interaction with political opponents change if we feared the LORD who made them in his own image?
A lot of things would change, I think, and the first would be our own hearts.