I recently read a statistic that listed fear of public speaking as the number one fear among Americans. This means that there are more people who lay awake at night shivering because people will see them and hear them than people who worry about going bankrupt, getting in trouble with the law, or losing their jobs. If this doesn’t speak volumes about the human condition, than I don’t know what does. Statistically speaking, Americans are more afraid of what people think of us than we are of death.
The fear of death is less common because I think that most of us don’t really believe we’ll die. This is why the death of a family member or a friend shakes us to the core. At that point we are forced to deal with reality, or at least acknowledge reality. All of a sudden our illusions are shattered, and we can no longer pretend that people don’t see us just because we have closed our eyes.
Just about every one has been to the beach. And if you’ve been to the beach then it’s likely that you know someone who is afraid to get in the water. I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever been afraid of the water, but I have to admit that sometimes I think about what is swimming about my knees amidst the murky Carolina Atlantic—especially since I’ve hooked average size sharks while fishing in three feet of water. I might add that I’ve done this on more than one occasion. I might also add that I’m not much of a fisherman. All that to say, there are probably more sharks out there with us then we really care to think about.
Oddly enough, I’ve never met someone who seemed afraid to drive to the beach, even though traffic accidents are a leading cause of death in the U.S. and are responsible for about 38 million deaths a year worldwide. Compare that to the number of people who died from shark attacks last year: four. That’s right; only four people in the whole world died last year from shark attacks. Statistically speaking, you are more likely to die on your way to the beach than to be attacked by a shark.
The funny thing is that even if you were afraid of sharks before you read this, you will most likely still be afraid of sharks even after reading these statistics. I find this to be strange, but I think I can understand it a little. I think the reasoning behind this is that most people have issues with control. When you’re in a car you can still maintain the illusion of being in control of things, though you’re probably at greater risk in rush hour traffic than you would be if you were dog paddling in a shark tank. And after all, the car is more familiar. You see cars every day.
My theory is this: Everyone is afraid of something. And what we are afraid of ends up becoming our master. In order to live the fullest kind of life, there has to be a fear far greater than our fear of self preservation. Maybe this is why the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.