The remarkable video below led me to ponder the difference and relationship between reverence and fear. For reverence is a form of fear, but a healthy form of it. Whereas fear, understood here as a cringing or hostile fear, is an unhealthy type of fear.
The Word “reverence” is rooted in the Latin word reveror, meaning “to stand in awe of, to revere or respect.” Hence there is a kind of respect involved that incites a healthy fear of overstepping, harming, or violating something or someone we hold in awe or have deep appreciation for. It is somewhat like the Holy Fear of the Lord counseled by Scripture wherein we hold God in awe and dread to cause Him offense out of this respect and love for Him.
When we have the healthy fear of reverence, we hesitate to simply barge in and behave “as if we owned the joint.” We proceed carefully, realizing that we are dealing with something or someone precious.
If it is a thing, we are more reverent if we realize we are not dealing with something ordinary, or something we own, but rather something that someone else owns and regards highly. Reverence for creation and the things of the created order is proper since we are stewards, not owners. If you lend me your car, I will likely be careful since it is not mine and I know you value it. I will have a healthy fear (reverence) of abusing, harming, or losing it.
When I have reverence for a person, I esteem him and am loath to cause him harm or grief due to that reverence. I will curb my behavior and seek to avoid any unnecessary harm.
Reverence is a healthy form of fear, a kind of wonder or awe at the mystery and magnificence of things and people. Of course it should never supplant or overrule our reverence or holy fear of God, but it does have a proper and healthy place in our dealing with people and even the created world.
If reverence is cultivated it also helps us avoid unhealthy fear, which is a cringing fear rooted in anxiety about backlash or retaliation from another, or the fear of consequences due to the violation of things or people. In effect, reverence helps ensure the good behavior that avoids bad consequences. In this quote from Romans 13, St. Paul very nicely summarizes the role of reverence as a preventative to fear on several levels:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh (Romans 13:1-14).
Thus reverence and (unhealthy or cringing) fear are related but also to be contrasted. And true reverence helps to avoid the unhealthy fear that is cringing and retaliatory.
This video is best understood in the light of this reflection. It features a certain alien, who seems to be an explorer or visitor to another planet. However he does not revere the world he explores and unreflectively (thus irreverently) collects samples. Soon enough, he experiences something of a call to account, though a very loving one. Nevertheless, his irreverence ignites his fear and he acts thoughtlessly. In the end he recovers reverence, but sadly, not before his irreverence has cost dearly.