This article originally appeared as one of Ruth Graham's By the Way columns in the March 4, 1983 issue of Christianity Today.
The shot through the rattlesnake's head had all but demolished it. The rattler was still twisting on the driveway as the family gathered around to see the latest snake kill. One of the dogs eased forward to finish it off, and the snake struck again. The dog jumped back.
Then one of the grandchildren reached out to touch it. Bill grabbed him and held him back, explaining how deadly even a dead snake can be. The young grandson, totally without fear, was determined to grab its tail. Again the mangled head struck out. The boy jumped back, getting the message. Rattlesnakes and copperheads, the only two poisonous snakes in our region, are to be feared.
"Education," wrote Angelo Patri, "consists in being afraid of the right things."
We taught our children to be careful with matches and to be respectful of open fire; fear of house fires and forest fires prompts sensible precautions. We also taught the children never to run into the street without first carefully looking both ways; a proper fear of cars is also legitimateas are accepting rides from strangers, using unprescribed drugs, not wearing helmets when riding motorcycles, breaking the law, and dishonoring one's parents or one's country.
There is one grand, noble fear we are taught from Genesis to Revelation. It is "the fear of the Lord." This is more than "being scared of" though there is a hit of that in it, too. It is "a reverential trust," not only a fear of offending, but a loving to the point one would not want to offend.
"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge" (Prov. 14:26).
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111:10).
" Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deut. 5:29)
"To guard against all such blasphemous chumminess with the Almighty; the Bible talks of the fear of the Lordnot to scare us but to bring us to awesome attention before the overwhelming grandeur of God" (Eugene H. Peterson, ALong Obedience in the Same Direction).
We live in a world wracked by fears and anxieties. The following appeared in L.e Monde (Paris) in the summer of 1981:
A Long Bastille Day Weekend
In France, overheated and overcrowded prisons are about to explode. In Northern Ireland, IRA inmates are dying one after the other. In El Salvador it's murder unlimited. In Chile, 'order' reigns. In Asia the refugees keep looking for refuge. Poland fears the summer. Afghanistan resists in silence, Iran rants on. Purges are under way just about everywhere.
The South is hungry, the North is afraid.
Happy weekend, everybody!
But God reassures his church in Revelation, "Fear none of those things which are to happen." We are to fear only the Lord.
It is the fear of God that puts all other fears in proper perspective.
Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has a memorial site for Ruth. The press release above is from A. Larry Ross and Associates, Billy's longtime personal publicist and spokesman, has photos, video, and more information.
Christianity Today articles by and about Ruth Graham include:
Putting Pressure in Its Place | Ruth Bell Graham on the purpose of stress. (May 8, 1981)
Moved into the Presence of God | Ruth Graham tells what book has influenced her the most. (September 2, 1983)
A Living Birthday Letter | Ruth Graham's life is a letter crafted especially for people like me who dread the thought of growing old. (Wendy Murray Zoba, June 12, 2000)
What Ruth Graham Taught Me About Prayer | A powerful way to make God's words your own. (Today's Christian, July/August 1999)
RuthBellGraham.com expired in 2005 and is now a cybersquatter's site, but its content is still available at the Internet Archive.
Obituaries on Ruth Bell Graham include those from the Associated Press, Asheville Citizen-Times, Charlotte Observer, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, News14 Charlotte, and other sources.
Patricia Conwell's biography of Ruth Graham, Ruth, A Portrait, is available from ChristianBook.com and other retailers.