Is There Anything Good in Fear?
We are interesting creatures. The habits we often cultivate in our lives drive us nuts and lead to burnout, yet somehow they’re also comfortable because they’re familiar. We don’t know of any other way to act or live unless we are shown another way. Jesus calls us to give up all those exhausting ways of living, because his burden is easy and his yoke is light. Worrying about tomorrow and stressing about things outside of our control are all things he calls us to submit to him. So are we going to? What’s it look like? Are we still allowed to be afraid? Is it sin to be afraid? These are all worth asking when we come to the point when we’re ready to submit to Christ.
Is there anything redeemable in fear? First we have to recognize that fear is a result of the fall. We read in Genesis 3:10 that after Adam and Eve sinned they were naked and afraid. Fear wasn’t intended to be a part of creation, but it is part of life now in a fallen world. Is there a way to direct fear well to glorify God? Suppression isn’t the answer as we saw in Parts 1 and 2 of this series. Instead we have to draw it out and come out the other side to wise love. We have to ask what is worth fearing in a fallen world? What am I responsible for as the person God has called me in my vocation here and now? What do I need to surrender to him?
What is Worth Fearing?
Fear keeps us alive. Fear of being mauled by a bear keeps you from cuddling with the black bear cub in your back yard. When fear is directed well, it leads to wisdom because in this fallen world there are things worth respecting and fearing in order to stay alive. However, our “fear priorities” need to be in biblical order. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” When we are valuing, fearing, revering, and worshipping the correct God, everything else falls into place.
Think about the posture of your heart when you over-fear something. You imagine there is punishment or consequences for not honoring the object of your fear as much as you do. If I’m afraid of my image being ruined by my failures, I’m going to hide my failures behind a fascade and not be open about them or deal with them. If I’m unreasonably afraid of sickness I’m going to micromanage my life. If I’m afraid of being out of control financially or relationally or whatever, I’m going to be controlling. We act in all these ways because we are afraid of the imagined cost or punishment of our fear being realized.
Think of the Canaanites in the Old Testament who bowed down to their gods and goddesses of fertility out of fear that they wouldn’t have crops that year. They offered sacrifices out of fear, even sacrificing their own children, to make sure that their gods were appeased. 1 John 4:18 (CSB) says “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love.” Although we don’t think of pagan deities behind the modern stock market, housing market, food market, or pandemics, we often still fear them in the same way our pre-modern pagan ancestors did.
I think this is why fearing the LORD is equated with worship so often in the Old Testament. We often redefine fear in these passages to mean worship or revere or whatnot. But really it’s a proper understanding of who God is, informed by his word, that leads to concern about what he requires of us at the top of our priority list. That leads to a life of worship! Someone who has internalized the love of God for them can cast out the fear of being punished by other sources because God has taken the greatest punishment upon himself at the cross.
What Am I Responsible For?
We must direct our fear through the lens of the gospel. Of course, there are threats we need to be aware of and take action against. This world is scary and poses risks all over the place that we can avoid in wisdom. But there are many things that are outside of our control. The things we do have control over we can deal with for his glory because we see the risk they pose in a fallen world, and through love for God and neighbor we take action. Someone who has directed fear well through the gospel and under God can see the risk that the fallen world presents, and act in love, not fear.
Here’s the deal. You may still act the same on the surface. Maybe you do put that mask on, or wash your hands over and over till they crack, but you do it out of love for God and others, not fear. It can come from a heart of sacrificial love for others and a submissive love for God. You may even be responsible for looking a certain way at work and actually being competent in your field. That’s ok! But how people receive it is out of your control, and thus you don’t have to fear that. All you have to worry about is your heart before God. You may have to be a little more on top of your life these days, maybe asking a bit more of your kids or spouse, but you can do it out of love and not a controlling fear. You are responsible to love your family, not fearfully control them. How would that realization change your relationships?
What Do I Need To Surrender?
Once we have submitted to God, deciphered what we need to be responsible for, and lovingly accepted that responsibility, we need to surrender the rest to Christ. This calls for repentance regarding how we deal with fear on our own. This is difficult, because in our fear we look around and scream, “You’re going to be alone, you’re going to be sick, you’re going to die, you’re going to lose __________ in this crisis.” The messages are powerful, terrifying, and sometimes true. Our false selves jump in to manage these messages with behaviors that show we do not fear the Lord above all else. These are the behaviors we need to surrender to Christ, because his yoke is easy and burden is light.
His yoke is easy and light because he has taken all our burdens and taken them upon the cross. That “fear of punishment” that causes us to idolize certain things and run to them for security has been dealt with in Christ. There is nothing we have to submit to in fear, we just have to realize it. The burdens we put upon ourselves out of fear will be seen as unnecessary in light of the cross. We’ll see that the call to love and not fear is much lighter and much more rewarding because it’s what we’re created for.
The end result is worship. It’s gratitude for everything we have, especially the victory over the powers of darkness that would demand our fearful worship. Consider Isaiah 35, verse 6 is the one that is most familiar, but take a look at verse 4…
3 Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! 4 Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy…
God’s demolishing of the powers of darkness at the cross lead to our worship of him. When we slow down and are not so frustrated and afraid of our circumstances, it makes room for gratefulness. When we appreciate what we have from an earthly perspective and a spiritual perspective we end up with a reverence, an awe, a fear of the LORD that leads to true worship and surrender. I pray that through this series you’ve been able to be more curious about your fear, what it says about your heart, and most importantly, been able to see what God’s calling you to in Christ during this fearful time. When he calls us to “not be afraid” we can trust him and surrender, not balk at the impossibility of the request. May his perfect love cast out the ways we seek to cover and manage our fear.