We live in fearful times. That’s not news. It’s not even recent. This has always been the case throughout human history, but months of continuous pandemic news has spiked our fear quotient. There are many other concerns we could add to the list as well. Something new seems to be added every day. So we exist in near-constant states of stress, our adrenalin levels pushed to the max.
Which has led me to ponder what the Scriptures say about fear. Skeptics would protest that the Bible is nothing more than a compilation of do’s and don’ts. I would disagree with such a narrow view. It’s far more than that. However, in truth, the Word of God shows and tells us much about what we should do – and not do – about fear.
The Lord makes very clear what we should fear. We’re commanded, “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in His name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and His anger will burn against you…” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).
Later in the same Old Testament book we read, “You are to fear the Lord your God and serve Him. Hold fast to Him and take your oaths in His name” (Deuteronomy 10:20). This admonition, however, is not the kind of cowering fear an animal might feel toward an owner that mistreats it, or a dreaded suspicion that the Lord is staring down from heaven, ready to pounce the moment we step out of line. Instead, biblical fear of God speaks about love, devotion and reverence, a profound sense of awe in approaching the Creator of all that is, ever was, and ever will be.
And there are benefits from “doing” this prescription to fear the one true God. “If you fear the Lord and serve and obey Him and do not rebel against His commands, and if you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God – good!” (1 Samuel 12:14). Psalm 34:9 adds, “Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.”
At the same time, the Scriptures clearly instruct that we are not to be overcome by fear – because of our trust and confidence in an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God. “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?” (Psalm 27:1).
This command not to fear is borne out of deep, abiding personal relationship, knowing God not as distant and disinterested, but closer than our skin. One of my favorite verses offers this assurance: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). He is present with us, no matter what our circumstances might be, and will provide whatever we need to get through them.
The New Testament gives similar assurances: In preparing to send His 12 closest disciples on their first mission without Him, Jesus warned them of inevitable opposition: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell…. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father…. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).
Another passage many of us know gives us more “do’s and don’ts”: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). I don’t know about you, but fear and anxious thoughts can come easily. The next steps – praying and expressing my concerns to God, along with thanking Him in advance for how He’s going to address my circumstances – do not.
That’s what faith is all about: Trusting the Lord in everything, even when – and especially when – we can’t see any way He can work through them for His good and perfect purposes, as He promises in Romans 8:28. But as 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”
Whether it’s a pandemic, social unrest, unemployment, or financial struggles, we have our marching orders. Fear God, but do not let fear generated by the situations we find ourselves in overwhelm us. We’re to choose faith, not fear.