To Fear or Not to Fear

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Maybe you’ve heard (correctly, I might add) that the most repeated command in all of the Bible is to “fear not” –to take courage and have faith in the face of terror and humiliation. Stories such as Joshua and the people of Israel when facing giants and fortified cities of the promised land or Mary when the angel told her that she would conceive a child being still a virgin and not yet married reiterate this message to us. Time and time again the saints, prophets, and leaders of the Old and New Testament are told to fear not what they see but to trust in the Lord, who they cannot see. Hebrews 11 is a good summation of what faith in the face of fear is all about and what the reward is for those who trust in the Lord.

It’s not hard to demonstrate the paralyzing nature of fear or the irrational behavior that it inspires. For instance, the kid on top of the zipline with quivering legs who cannot take that leap of faith or another who will not venture into the deep end of the pool without floaties. Fear has a way of making us question who and what we will trust. It can also keep us from experiencing the fullness of life.

This brings me to the book of Proverbs. Why does God tell us time and time again not to fear, but he instructs us to “fear Him” in the book of proverbs? Proverbs 9:10 is one example

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

What’s the difference between fearing the Lord and the fear that is so often rebuked in scripture? The problem, I believe, arises only when we don’t understand what really is going on. The problem isn’t fear itself but what you are trusting in, what you are choosing to fear, and what you hope in. Remember the disciples of Jesus, those who were so scared of being the accomplices of Christ that they all ran and hid when He was arrested? Peter himself denied and swore that he didn’t know Jesus out of fear of those who served the high priest. Fast forward a couple months to the book of Acts, and these same people are arrested for preaching about Christ and are brought to the most powerful authority of the Jews–the same ones who condemned and killed Jesus. We read about this confrontation Acts 4:18-21:

“And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened.”

This miraculous change of heart for the disciples doesn’t come with an eradication of fear, but a proper understanding of what they should fear. Instead of fearing man, they fear God. Their hope is in God and the life Christ has promised, not in themselves or their earthly lives.

The Fear of the Lord and the Faith that doesn’t fear aren’t mutually exclusive, but instead mutually inclusive. We will always have faith and fear in something. The question is: In what?