Fear is a great and powerful adversary that, through the ages and even today, continues to ravage the lives of many Christians! Or is it? All our struggles with anxiety, worry, depression and the likes, all stem from some form of the same root – fear. It is not a feeling that any of us ‘desire’ to experience. In fact, we live our lives constantly trying to avoid it or overcome it. But is it possible, beloved, that fear is the most misunderstood emotion?
What on earth do I mean?
Well, the point I’m trying to make is that fear is not always a bad emotion. For example, my fear of heights causes me to hold the railing that much harder when I stand out on a ledge. I wouldn’t try to touch a tiger when I visit the zoo even if I had gotten to hold a monkey just before. I would look both ways before crossing the road even if the pedestrian lights are green. Sure, some of you may say that these are evidences that fear inhibits my sense of adventure. Maybe so, but there is no denying that fear also serves a useful purpose in many of these situations. It’s similar to pain. None of us want to feel it. Yet pain is the only way we know that there is something wrong with our body and that we need medical attention. So, just because we don’t like it or want it doesn’t mean that pain is inherently a bad thing. The same applies to fear. The question that we should rather be asking is if our fear is a ‘healthy’ fear or an ‘unhealthy’ one.
What is fear?
Fear in the human soul is a God-ordained emotion. It isn’t inherently bad. It is good. Proverbs 9:10 teaches us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are instructed to embrace the fear of the Lord. If fear was a bad thing, then why would God ask us to pursue it? Fear is nothing more than the outward expression of our belief. It is one of the ways God has enabled us to feel what we believe. Like joy or sadness, fear is an emotion. If I believe that God is altogether holy and righteous and mighty and sovereign, then I will fear Him. When I realise that I am but vapour before this mighty Creator, I will tremble. The fear there is evidence of my belief. But if I only say that I believe in such a God, and then live a life of levity, hypocrisy and sin, it shows how little I believe in what I claim. In the same way, if I say I trust in God’s good work in my life and yet live a life worrying and anxious of the things around me, then it is evidence that I do not trust in God. Therefore, there are healthy and unhealthy fears. Healthy fears are those that are the product of righteousness. They are appropriate fears that help to build and sustain the godly man. Whereas, unhealthy fears are sinful. They are worries that the Gospel assures us not to be worried about. They hinder the spiritual growth of a believer.
The Holy Fear
To quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.’ Such glory and enjoyment carries with it the need for a holy fear. It is not a burden for God’s people to fear Him. It is a righteous fear and I would go so far as to call it the greatest and holy fear. None of us will be able to discern and manoeuvre these healthy and unhealthy fears if we don’t have this most important fear of the Lord. The real reason we are weighed down by our fears is because we are not nearly fearful enough. We are terrified of many things because we’re not nearly as scared as we ought to be about one thing. Beloved, the reason we are overtaken by our unhealthy fears is because we are not nearly as overcome as we ought to be by our holy fear of God. We were created to live in union with God, in holy and obedient worship to this God. But then, Adam sinned. He set aside this holy fear of God and disobeyed Him. Sin, thus, entered into this world, ushering in an age, an era, of darkness. Paul explains this well in Romans 8:20-23 – For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For all of creation is groaning along with us for the day when we will be completely redeemed, the day when all things will be restored and we shall return, but to a better state of peaceful, joyful, fearful and holy existence, worshiping the Almighty God. There will be no anxiety in that place, for all unholy fears will forever be banished.
How do we overcome unhealthy fears
The Gospel is the answer. Now, before you push away this notion because it’s cliché or because you’ve heard it a thousand times, bear with me yet one more time. I wrestle with anxiety a lot in my own life. However, ultimately, there is no denying the fact that I’m more afraid of the things in this world, things that are passing, things that are of no eternal consequence than I am of God. I’m more fearful about my health, my job, my responsibilities, my success, my family, my dreams, and my ministry. We can all have healthy fears about these things but the imbalance between these fears and our holy fear of God creates a dangerous tide of anxiety. Most of us don’t wake up as often as we should to the holy magnificence of God, where we bend with shaking knees before the majesty of the Trinity. I once heard a friend tell the story of a pastor to whom a couple was confessing their sin of indulging in physical intimacy before marriage. This pastor nodded and quietly told them that somebody had actually seen them in the act. Understandably flustered, the couple asked, “Who?”, to which the pastor responded, “God”. The couple responded with the same emotion that I believe most of us would have, saying, “Phew! It’s only God. We were afraid that someone from church might have seen us.” Do you see the irony here? That we are more afraid about the people around us catching us in an act of sin than we are of the Holy God of this universe, before whom we will all give an account on that day of judgment.
Why do we lack in this necessary fear of God? Because we don’t know Him. We are not nearly as fearful as we ought to be of this God because we are not nearly as exposed to the reality of His Being as we ought to be. In other words, we don’t fear God enough because we don’t know Him enough. And when I use the word ‘know’ I don’t mean our intellectual knowledge about Him alone. I am speaking, instead, of our intimate and personal relationship with Him, in light of that knowledge. That is why the Gospel is the only solution to your fears and mine. God created us to be a fearful people, not in a sinful way but in a healthy, God-glorifying way. When we abandon the biblical call to fear God in true reverence, love, admiration and longing, we open ourselves to the unholy and unhealthy fears of this world. Knowing God brings holy fear, and because of it, you will no longer be weighed down by the worldly tensions brought about by sinful fears in your worldly pursuits of health, wealth and prosperity.