Is fear a Spirit?

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but the spirit of power, love, and prudence.

Timothy 1: 7

For many years I have understood this verse fundamentally and fundamentally wrong.

The translation

This is mainly due to the translations and teaching I received.

What bothers me about the translation:

The first half-sentence speaks of one spirit, the second of the spirit. This seems to imply that in the second part is talking about a very definite spirit, namely—and that is now interpretation and teaching—the Holy Spirit. This is justified by the mention of the Holy Spirit in verse 14.

A more verbatim translation would be:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of strength, love, and prudence.

Still further from the original are certain other translations. They speak of a spirit of fear, or even of the spirit of fear.

Actually, cowardice would be the most faithful translation. Fear means something quite different: Cowardice is a decision, while fear is an emotion that can be both good and exaggerated.

The particular article encourages English-speaking pastors to conclude from the verse that there is a spirit of fear, so to speak, as a counterpart to the Holy Spirit.

According to this interpretation, God has not given us the demon of fear, but the Holy Spirit with his good qualities.

The encouragement

But this text is about the encouragement of Timothy.

Paul remembers the faith that Timothy had, instilled by his mother and grandmother. He reminds Timothy of the gift he had received through the laying on of hands, and that God did not create us as cowards, but as strong, loving, prudent beings. That’s why he should not be ashamed of anything, not even to pass on the message.

In Greek, German and English spirit can mean three things: 1. being “in the spirit” of something, 2. a spirit in the sense of a demon, angel or the Holy Spirit. And 3. the spirit of man, as we are body, soul and spirit. This spirit of man is fundamentally strong, loving and prudent.

Our lives, our anything but perfect life circumstances, our imprint, our survival strategies bury this God-given spirit of the true self. The false self or ego can be shy, timid and cowardly.

Why am I sure that the two halves do not talk not about different spirits? Because the word “spirit” is used only once. So this spirit is not cowardly, but strong. The same spirit. Therefore the verse speaks about the human spirit, an angel or the Holy Spirit.

Personally, I do not believe that Paul needed to describe the Holy Spirit as strong and loving. He would hardly assume that Timothy would describe the Holy Spirit as a coward.

It is a little different with Romans 8:15. Here the Holy Spirit is described to clearly delineate him from the law: the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of bondage that leads only to fear, but a spirit of sonship. But back to our verse:

Paul wanted to say to Timothy: Hey, you are a little shy, sometimes you even see yourself as a coward, but God has made you strong, loving and prudent. Believe in it.

Why is that important?

Often this verse is brought in as proof that not only there is a spirit of fear, but that fear is a spirit – the spirit of fear.

This is a mistake often made in sermons, but completely contradicting logic: even if there is a spirit of fear (let’s stick to that word), the converse is not valid. Just because there is a spirit of fear, not all fear must emanate from this spirit.

Anxiety is an emotion that can be healthy if acted upon wisely, cautiously, maybe even fleeing in dangerous situations – and receiving the necessary energy reserves and the adrenalin in response to the anxiety.

Fear is an emotion that in traumatic experiences can overreact totally.

And fear is an emotion that naturally occurs in encounters with spirits, especially demons. If there are traumatic experiences that are supposed to trigger fight or flight, then such encounters are also part of it.

But if fear is a more or less healthy emotion, but I am demonizing it, then I am dealing with it differently because of this demonization. I fight it from the moment it appears.

But if fear is a demon, then it is not too far off to think that this applies to all negative emotions. So shame has to be combated as well.

Guilt has a different character and a different solution: it has to be made manifest, or rather the underlying sin, and is redeemed through forgiveness. Guilt feelings after forgiveness, however, must be stifled and fought back immediately, with the truth that I am forgiven.

As in: Do not give the spirit any room, it will only bring you into a negative spiral of thought. Destroy it.

What is the difference between guilt and shame?

There is fear and shame since the creation. Adam and Eve felt shame as their eyes opened and they saw that they were naked and afraid to meet God. They did not yet know guilt, but they knew the repressive mechanism of accusing others.

Guilt, the Bible tells us, comes only with the law. Of course, if we read the story of creation as the great Fall, then the emotions are the same age. But if we read the creation story as the awakening of the consciousness of man, interpreted and written down by people who knew the law, then we see that the interpretation of the Fall as moral was first given by the law.

For shame and anxiety, according to the epistemological horizon of men at this time, there is only the possibility of repression and explanation as spirits.

For guilt, there is the law and its atonement, both in the sacrifice of animals or Jesus.

What consequences does the whole thing have?

If these original emotions are spirits and I have to fight them, I never face them. I never learn to handle them. Research has shown that we do not treat emotions individually with different strategies. Sooner or later we will fight joy and love with the same strategies.

Emotions that we cannot feel are shown by anxiety. This is not an emotion, but what we feel when we can not or do not perceive feelings.

Against this anxiety we then develop defence mechanisms, such as repression or intellectualisation, rational explanation. One type of defence is spiritual warfare.

Do not get me wrong: spiritual warfare is good, biblical and right when it comes to demons. But not when it comes to emotions. Here we fight ourselves. And at some point the whole thing explodes.

Dealing with emotions

How do we deal properly with emotions? What I say now, you can check on the basis of the psalms. Just a tip.

  1. Name the emotion. As a result, it no longer exists only in your reptilian brain, excuse me, the brainstem, where our most primitive emotions come from, but it is linked to the frontal lobe, the seat of reason. As a result, it is already losing power.
  2. Localize the emotion in your body. Where do you feel it? In the stomach, in the heart, in the throat? This action lets you understand the emotion better, but also prepares you for the next step.
  3. Observe the emotion. Do not let yourself get carried away, but get to know them. Do not give it all the space it wants to take—that’s what you’ve already prevented with point 1. Stand next to yourself and observe.
  4. Do what is necessary. Now you can do that in peace and do not act in the heat of the emotion. Maybe an apology is appropriate. Maybe now is the time for spiritual warfare. You will know.

Again, fear is not a spirit. Fear is an emotion. An emotion is your reaction to situations or thoughts, a way for the body and the soul to attract attention. Do not fight yourself.