What’s the most common command God gives his people in scripture?
Do. Not. Fear.
Of all the things God wants to impress upon those who love him, this is the one he repeats most frequently. Why? Because if you’re anything like me, your heart naturally bends towards fear. We don’t have to work at it, it’s self-establishing, self-fuelling. Fear is a future focused emotion that comes instinctively to us because, if we’re honest, we’re attracted to the idea of imagining our worst futures. We play them out on the stage of our mind’s eye: all that could go wrong, everything we could lose or fail to gain. We love to paint our possible tomorrows because envisioning them gives us a tiny sense of control, of knowledge.
I recently heard Ed Welch describe fear as the prediction of a bad future. We know it’s foolishness really, if we think about it logically fearing the future doesn’t change anything. And yet there’s something so enticing to us about imagining the worst that tomorrow could bring. It’s alluring, even addictive.
So how do we stop it? What’s the Biblical cure for fear?
Well, I’m wondering if in fact the cure for fear, is fear.
Track with me a moment. Fearing the future is essentially foolishness, we know it changes nothing and does us no good. We don’t know what tomorrow will hold, nor do we have any ability to control it, and yet we allow the fear of tomorrow to consume us. Fear makes us into fools. And what’s the opposite of foolishness? Wisdom. And where does wisdom begin? With the fear of the Lord. Surely this isn’t a coincidence? Proverbs 9:10 says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy one is understanding.
So, there are two kinds of fear, fear that makes us fools and fear that makes us wise. When I indulge in foolish fear I’m allowing myself to envision a future where my good and wise God is largely absent, or where the true God of the Bible has been replaced with the vindictive cruel creator of my nightmares.
When my fears make me a fool I need my knowledge of the true God to fill my eyes so that I stand more in awe of him than my unknown tomorrows. This is the heart of the issue. This is the cure for my fears. Fearing God is the cure for all other fears.
So how does it work? How do I fear God more than an unknown future?
Thomas Chalmers talks about battling sin with ‘the expulsive power of a new affection’. This is essentially the idea that we need to love Christ more than we love sin. If our affection for Christ is stronger than our affection for our sins, we will choose Christ, because we do what we love. I can’t help but think that I need the expulsive power of a new fear.
When the Bible talks about fearing God it’s most often speaking of the sense of holy awe you get when confronted with the bigness of God in comparison to the smallness of you. It’s like a raindrop staring out at the vast ocean and recognising its own insignificance. It’s about orientating yourself. Looking up. Looking out. It’s about recognising who you are, and who God is by vast comparison. He is the creator, I am a creature. He’s all-knowing and stands outside of time. In comparison I am in every way limited by design.
Foolish fear makes me look down and in on myself, what do I think will happen, how will I cope, what will I do?
Wise fear makes me look up and out of myself, who is my God, what has he done, what does he say?
When I wisely fear God, I look at him, I recognise who he is, the all-knowing, unlimited God who stands enthroned outside of time. He’s in my past, my present and my future all at once. He holds it all, and he is doing good to me in it all. My fears for the future retreat when I recognise and respond to the truth of who my God is. I stand in awe of him, I love him, I trust him with my future.
A wise fear of God is the only thing powerful enough to expel foolish fear from my heart. I may have to stare at him a while in order to reach a place where wisdom defeats folly, but the truth of who my God is will always accomplish this. Gaze at him until your awe of him expels your awe of all else.