Un-healthy Fear is a Problem
The issue of fear can often debilitate otherwise normal, productive persons. For those who are not redeemed, that fear can result in the loss of productivity, relationship problems, and a sub-standard quality of life all the way around. Often, this fear is the result of the fact that they are under the judgment of a holy God. For those who are redeemed, fear can produce the same effects and even hinder a person from being able to preform the task that God desires them to do.
Fear is not altogether bad. Fear does have its place and can actually protect one from dangerous circumstances. Fear of fire (in a normal way) causes one to use caution when using it as a tool. An unhealthy lack of fear, however, will allow someone to misuse or abuse fire and cause damage to themselves or to others. This is not the fear one needs to be freed from.
At a foundational level, fear comes from placing a confidence in someone or something that unstable or unsure. Some describe the foundation of fear as “… having put our trust in something that is ultimately untrustworthy. It will not sustain life. To put it another way, it comes from placing ultimate reliance on the conscious level, on ends which, on the unconscious level, we know may ‘let us down’” (Pike 10). This however does not mean that one will have to live with fear because of temporarily and un-stability of the world. There is one, however, who is above this world and claims to be the sure foundation of this world.
Certainly, the scriptures provide many examples of those who faced fear and overcame it or scummed to the dreadful results. The realms of fear such as fear of guilt, fear of man, and fear of the future all result from a failure to properly recognize the character of God and not trusting in the perfect plan which he has orchestrated for the life of all people. An examination of several key passages of scripture will help one who struggles with fear in any realm.
A theme that continually presents itself in these passages is the character of God. If one has a faulty view of the character of God, he or she can be dominated by fear. God’s character gives a person hope that one who is greater than the circumstance exists, is able to work mightily in the situation, and bring anything into praise for himself and for the ultimate good of His creation.
The Character of God Gives Light in the Face of Fear
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. (Psalm 27:1-5)
The character of God expressed in this passage shows several truths that will help build a foundation for turning the fear of man back to a proper fear of God. The Lord being described as both the author’s Light and Salvation are the first to describe God’s character. Commentators place Psalm 27 as one of confidence (Wilson 482). One can be confident that the Lord will give light unto His own in order to remove the darkness of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). Even in the most dire of circumstances, the Lord is there, not only to provide light, but to provide salvation as well. The light that is given will light the path for one to walk without fear of stumbling and reveals the path of righteousness on which the faithful will tread (Ps. 25:4,5,9,10). The psalmist David also affirms that “the LORD is the strength on my life”. Such confidence in the character of God will also allow him to determine that there is no one who is able to thrust fear upon him, because he is continually looking to the Lord for the light and the salvation that he brings.
As God’s character is one of giving light and bringing salvation, no one who is being protected by Him has any reason for fear. The circumstances that the psalmist mentions are external and weigh upon him and are such, however, that they would crush him were he left alone to defend himself. God however shows that even when men come upon His own, they will stumble and fall and though men should come against God’s own with everything that they have, David does not fear because God is faithful. David also gives a final image that God does not just protect his own, but places them upon a foundation, a “rock”, and in the end he will have victory.
It is not hard for man to be fearful of what other men may do. Man since the time of Cain seem to have hatred and anger toward one another. Fear, triggered by an external circumstance, can and does affect people. But a God who is light upon every circumstance in life will provide a way for the fearful one to overcome that fear. Ultimately, God brings salvation to those who are trusting in Him.
The pressure brought upon by ‘enemies’ is one of the ares in which saved persons may experience fear. David dealt with this fear by meditating upon the Character of God with respect to God’s light-bringing and salvation-giving. The light to know how to move forward in darkness and salvation to assure that in the end, God protects his own.
The responsibility is then to desire fellowship with the one who gives light and provides salvation. If one has never received salvation from the Lord, he is not able to have a fellowship with the God that removes fear from his life. This is the first important thing above all others! If God is not the salvation to the individual personally, they cannot have fellowship with Him. By fellowshipping with the one who saved them. Ironside comments, “Let the enemy rage as he will; I will confide in God” (162). By trusting in God, fear is abated.
God is the Safe Place in the Time of Fear
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah. […] He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. (Psalm 46:1-3, 9-11.)
Again, the author of this psalm focuses a great deal upon God’s character. God is not just described as “a” refuge, but in very personal terms “our” refuge: a place of safety in the midst of great trials and tribulations. The reality of this refuge is not just a future place of final retreat from problem, but is currently and presently a place of help to overcome the struggle. This refuge is not subject to the whims of nature, for even if the earth were to be destroyed and the massive mountains be tossed into the sea, God is still a refuge that cannot be shaken.
Because God is the refuge that will endure even the catastrophe of the destruction of the earth, David has a “… radical confidence […] exhibited in an ability to stand without fear in the face of what constitutes a threat of uncreation” (Wilson 716). This un-changing and un-movable refuge stands in contrast to a picture of stability as seen in the mountains. Even the objects of nature that are deemed by man to be un-movable are in reality very movable by the one who created them. The things that man places confidence in are ultimately unsafe: only the God of all creation is the safe place to rest.
Fear as a result of external circumstances relating to the things of nature are easy to overcome once one places in proper perspective the fact that God is the creator of all nature and His character is never changing. In the midst of an ever changing world, God calls out to His children, “Be still, and know that I am God” (v. 10). The responsibility of the fearful toward the circumstances of life is to acknowledge God, as creator of the universe and that he is very active in the preservation of all life within it. He does not live far away unable to see the situations that cause fear, but remains closely present to offer His place of refuge to those who will trust Him and believe His character.
God Cares for the the Individual
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:4 – 7)
Jesus knew that fear within his disciples would be a major hindrance to the message which he wanted them to deliver. His reference back to the hypocrisies of the Pharisees dealt specifically with the fact that they desired to be seen of men for their self proclaimed piety. The Pharisee’s attitude toward those who had a different message would be answered with the wrath of persecution. Jesus tells those who are with him that this persecution of men is not worthy of fear. There is another being that man should fear because of the terrible power that this one has, not over the physical but seeks to destroy the eternal soul in hell. In essence, Christ is pointing out that their fear has been misplaced.
There is no reason to fear physical harm because one is pursuing the cause of Christ. Jesus points his followers to the faithfulness and loving kindness of God. Even five sparrows that are sold for a little cost are known by God and the death of even one of them will not escape the mind of God. If God has concern for a creature not valued highly in the sight of man, how much more should God be concerned about the pinnacle of his creation that is said to be formed in the image of God? Christ confirms the love God has for his own by stating that the followers are of more value than many sparrows. Because of this love, the Christian has a command to “fear not!” External circumstances do not necessitate present fear.
Jesus, as God, Has the Power to Overcome Impossible Circumstances
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going (John 6:16 – 21)
Shortly after the feeding of the five-thousand men with only five loaves of bread and two small fish, one finds the disciples traveling upon the sea of Galilee. The distance was short, but for all their effort, they seemed to be at a standstill. Worse yet, the sea was threatening to overturn the boat! To add upon the disciples frustration of maintaining their physical existence, a form appeared upon the sea. The physical drain upon their body would seem to cause them to act out of instinct and determine that this form on the sea was some type of “ghost”. Whatever the case may be, they were afraid!
Christ calls out to the fearful disciples and says, “it is I; do not be afraid.” There is a connection between Christ’s revealing of himself and the command He gives stop fearing. The presence of the Lord must have been a great encouragement to the disciples. In the parallel passage in Mark, it is recorded that Jesus commands the seas to be still. Christ had the power then to control the circumstances that arose and threatened to destroy the disciples. The text finally records that shortly after they had taken Jesus into the boat, that they reached the destination that they had been working toward, but had not been making progress.
As one of the many blessings bestowed upon the redeemed, Christ has not only taken away the fear of the guilt of sin but also the grace to overcome the fear of impossible circumstances. Even when the disciples could have despaired and given up, relegating their lives to the sea, Christ desired to work in their lives and deliver them from the fear that they were experiencing.
It is also interesting to note that the disciple’s were glad and stopped fearing before the storm ceased (Mark 6:50,51 cf. John 5:21). Once they saw the master, His command was to be glad and stop fearing. The disciples received boldness in spite of the impossible circumstance. Because the Christian serves the same master, he or she can also have the boldness to go through the difficulty which God may allow to build up His children.
Fear as the result of misplaced focus
Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. (I Kings 18:38, 39)
Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. (I Kings 19:2,3)
Elijah had just finished securing a great victory for the Lord. The prophets of Baal had been killed and the nation of Israel saw the impotence of pagan gods and the power of the living God raining down fire upon the sacrifice. Elijah had seen God work mightily and knew the power of God better than just about anyone else. But even still, fear came upon him.
Though a mighty prophet called by God, Elijah was still a man of “like passions” (James 5:17). Fear is common to mankind. Even the “super-spiritual” are subject to fear. Elijah had no fear in battling the prophets of Baal but when he received word from Jezebel that his life was under threat, he focused on that threat instead of the mighty power of God. This misplaced focus on the external threat caused him to fear.
People are fearful at times. Even when one seeks to please God and to do his will, there will be circumstances that arise that will tempt that person to focus on the problem rather than on God and His loving and powerful character. Jezebel’s threat should have been empty words compared to the work done on mount Carmel. Fear in this case resulted from faulty logic. Elijah believed that Jezebel had the power to harm his life and that her power was greater than the power of God to protect his life.
Helping People Deal With Fear
As noted above, God’s character provides the basis for the Christian to have victory over fear. The Christian does not have to fear God’s wrath because that has been taken care of at the cross (Romans 5:1). There is no situation so dark that fear is a necessity: God is light and provides direction. God cares for the person who is going through the trial and he has the power to overcome it. Finally, fear comes as a result of focusing on the situation instead of focusing on the person of God.
These passages show that God is the only reliable place to place one’s life. The counselor needs to assure the person who has allowed fear to overtake them that only God can work in their life to overcome fear. Once a person return his or her focus back on to God and away from the problem, he or she will be able to move forward with boldness. This is not to say that the circumstance will be solved nor that it will end with a “positive” outcome, but that God is working within that circumstance to accomplish His own will for the good of His own people.
The unsaved, unconverted person, however, does not have any basis for a solution for fear: they should be fearful! They need to know that Christ came to forgive them their sins for which the now sit under the judgment of God. No matter what the external situation, their eternal state is the most important. Once that is taken care of, there is now a basis for taking care of external fear.
It should bring joy to all Christians everywhere that God’s character overshadows any situation that one may face. He alone is able to give grace and peace in the midst of impossible circumstances. It is to this hope, that one can, or rather must place trust. This is the only solution to fear.
- Ironside, H. A. Studies on Book One of the Psalms. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.1952.
- Pike, James A. Beyond Anxiety. NewYork: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.
- Wilson, Gerald H. The NIV Application Commentary: Psalms Volume 1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.