Fear. It is a primal feeling, yet it permeates every aspect of our lives. With nauseating power, we encounter fear where we least expect it and most despise it. We feel it in relationships. We’re nagged by fear in our careers. We sense its gnawing presence while driving on the interstate, when looking into the face of our child, or even when going to bed at night. Fear is everywhere. And fear is powerful.
Why we experience fear.
There seems to be every reason to fear, especially in light of recent events. When is the next Boston tragedy going to happen? What will happen if North Korea launches a nuclear missile? Will I get caught in the crossfire of an urban gunfight? Will an explosion erupt nearby?
Fear is as familiar as breathing itself. It’s part of life. It’s part of being human. It’s part of existing. Is there any place on this planet that is exempt from the danger of natural disaster, the fury of depraved humans, or the terrifying uncertainties of our own future, our health, or our eternal destiny?
Fear grapples with questions as mundane as “does this water contain dangerous chemicals” to “what’s going to happen to my soul when I die?”
We experience fear for the same reason that we experience joy, grief, anger, or contentment. It is an emotion – a powerful, visceral emotion with profound physiological effects. Fear can control us.
Get the truth about fear.
Because fear meddles with our emotions and confuses rational thought, we need a clear perspective on our fear. We need some source of truth and wisdom that comes from outside ourselves. Biology and psychology provide helpful information about fear, but the Bible speaks directly and unmistakably to the subject of fear.
Good Fear. Bad Fear.
The Bible’s information on fear is fascinating for one major reason. It tells us both to fear and not to fear. The reason for this paradox becomes clear once we understand a few of the passages on fear.
When we encounter fear in the Bible, it is often in a negative context (1 John 4:18). Repeatedly, we read things like “fear not” (Isaiah 54:4), and “do not fear” (Revelation 2:10). Even in the face of danger, violence, persecution, and the like, God gently encourages us not to fear (1 Peter 3:6). The sense we get from just a cursory biblical survey of fear is that it is a negative emotion. Fear is somehow distasteful or unpleasant. We know this innately. When fear is present, we are not comfortable.
In other places, the Bible presents an altogether different view of fear. In fact, fear is equated with things like “honor” and “love” (1 Peter 2:17). What is going on here? Why does the Bible talk about fear in such a way? In Proverbs, “fear” is contrasted with “evil” (Proverbs 3:7). On one occasion when God was comforting Isaiah, he told him “do not fear.” But then in the next sentence, God told him, “let [God] be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13).
The difference between good fear and bad fear has to do with the object or cause of that fear. The vague and uncomfortable fear that we feel in the face of life’s circumstances can and should be replaced by fear of God – the awe and wonder at his majesty and holiness.
How to Fear the Right Way
God affirms the presence of fear in the human experience. And he tells us how to manage it. He himself is the solution (Psalm 34:9). Fear can’t be wiped away by some moral resolve or by building up steely nerves and stalwart bravery. Fear has its antidote in a person who commands an entirely different form of fear – godly fear. Fear is okay; we just need to direct our fears in the right way.
Let us dispense with the advice, however well meaning, to “face your fears,” “defy your fears,” “overcome fears,” or “be brave.” Those things are right, as long as they are placed within the right context. The real response to fear is God-directed fear. This is a kind of fear that we can manage, because of what it involves (2 Corinthians 7:1).
To fear God is to honor him. Fearing God means respecting who he is, acknowledging his character, and allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed in awe and even love (Psalm 118:4) Fear is to know God – in all his untamed, uncontrollable, infinite power – yet to accept it in humility. Fear is trust (Psalm 115:11).
Ordinary fear is raw, disturbing, vulnerable, exposed, tragic, and disturbing. It is anything but assuring. Fearing God, however, is a life-changing experience of goodness, comfort, assurance, warmth, security, and liberation. The contrast between the two fears couldn’t be more amazing, especially when you experience it.
In Psalm 27, David writes,
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Fear – the right kind of fear – is healthy and right. It allows us to defy the controlling power of life’s circumstances.
There is a person who welcomes your fears. God is prepared to swallow every fear you bring him.
Do you fear about finances? Bring it to God.
Are you afraid about your health? Take this fear to God.
Are you fearful that your children will “turn out alright?” Tell God about your fear.
Is your commute to work a fearful experience? God wants to own this fear.
Do national events or uncertainties bring you fear? God can take these fears.
Is there someone in your life whom you fear? Carry this fear with you into the presence of God.
See what happens to your fear when God steps into the picture. Fearing God displaces every other kind of fear with an all-encompassing sense of his presence, power, and perfection.
Fearing God is the solution to fear itself.