“The Lord is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?” – Psalm 118:6
The first draft of this post was written during the devastating aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. At the time, I was reflecting on how helpless we often feel over things we can’t control, like natural disasters and illness. My theme was power and powerlessness. Recent events have changed my focus.
Instead, I want to shift to a different emotion: fear.
We live in a world of fear. Fear of tomorrow, fear of the unknown, fear of each other, fear of what might change us. We fear things in the dark, we fear strangers and people with different skin color or sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We fear our own mortality.
The late hours of October 1 were erupted with the sound of gunfire as shots rained down on a large crowd of concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. As of this writing (one week later), 58 men and women are dead – as well as the shooter whose name I won’t sensationalize by repeating here – and over 500 wounded. A stunned world cried out in dumbfounded shock, expressing an urgent plea to do something, to bring sense to the madness. And underlying that urge is an ancient, primal instinct: fear that we can never be safe.
Fear surrounds us
I recently revisited Luke’s Gospel and was reminded of this passage: “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Luke 21:25-26
While the focus of this post is not end-times prophecy, doesn’t it often feel like we live in a period very similar to what Jesus described? Fear surrounds us, gripping our hearts and paralyzing our emotions. Many of us seem consumed by a sense of dread.
Why should fear be so deeply ingrained in us? If as professing Christians we believe in salvation why are we afraid of harm or death? Why can we not find the calm of David in Psalm 23, walking “in the valley of the shadow of death” yet fearing no evil?
As children, we’re taught to fear the first time we hear the word “NO!” When we mature, fear plants deep roots and grows, for many becoming a dark shadow controlling their lives. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus became flesh and endured death on the cross that he “might free those who through fear … were subject to slavery all their lives.” Hebrews 2:15
Physical fear, the fear of pain or death, is natural. When it doesn’t control us, fear can protect us from harm and danger, helping us make prudent decisions and avoid miscalculated risks. Yet when uncontrolled, fear can replace our trust in God, substituting belief in a personality ability to deliver ourselves from adversity through actions. We often begin to believe in our own invulnerability.
In the news coverage following the events in Las Vegas, I was struck by the image of a lone concert goer standing in the midst of the carnage facing the lone gunman while everyone around him crouched in fear. Granted, he had been enjoying adult beverages and his unique demonstration of fearlessness is not one I might recommend, but his defiance represented bravery to many. It reminded me of another story.
2,600 years ago, a young prophet named Daniel was thrown into in a lions’ den by Darius the Mede (known in scripture as “Darius the King”) for disobeying an edict not to pray to YAHWEY. Undeterred, Daniel defied the edict and continued to pray, showing no fear.
I don’t know where the defiant concert goer in Las Vegas found his fearlessness, but I’m positive where Daniel found his. Trusting in God, Daniel faced down wild animals that would have devoured him, knowing the outcome would be God’s will.
Be anxious for nothing
Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians “Be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). David tells us in Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.”
God provides deliverance from fear. He tells us not to let worry and anxiety grip us. In Jesus’ own words, “who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:27).
Does this mean we will never suffer tragedy or hardship? No. Does it mean we won’t be a victim in a tragedy like the one that took so many lives in Las Vegas, or Nice, or London, or New York? No. But it does mean that as Believers our salvation is secure and God will guide us on the path He has set for us. Equally important, we know the destination awaiting us.
This was the fearlessness that drove the Apostles, virtually all of which were persecuted and executed for their beliefs. The same fearlessness comforted Stephen as he was stoned to death for speaking the truth of Jesus. It fueled William Tyndale, a key reformer who was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536.
Fearlessness empowered Dietrich Bonhoeffer to stand against Hitler’s treatment of Jews, resulting in his 1945 hanging. It burned in the hearts of seven Egyptian Christians murdered in January 2010 as they left their church in Nag Hammadi, Egypt.
And unwavering fearlessness based on trust in God surrounded the nine victims at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina murdered as they stood to pray in June 2015.
Each of these and thousands of other similar instances around the world speak to the power of defeating fear. And they share another common bond: enduring love. In his first epistle, John writes “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” 1 John 4:18.
Love drives out fear
Ultimately, fear is self-focused. When we’re afraid, we’re almost always focused on something about ourselves – what we might lose, what might be taken away from us, pain or hardship we might endure. Fear drives us to distrust those we love, look skeptically at our neighbors and colleagues, hate those around us who have more than we do.
On the other hand, love is always about someone else, and perfect love is solely about God. When we allow the perfect love of God to penetrate our hearts, there’s simply no room for self-centeredness or conceit. And where there is no self-focus, there is no fear.
There will always be loss and pain and even death for as long as we draw breath. But the promise of the Gospel is that God’s salvation through the sacrifice of Christ strengthens our spirits and souls and bodies, giving us triumph over our weaknesses and victory in the face of adversity.
Faith in God’s love emboldens Believers. As Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the nature of suffering and faith: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Perfect love derives from the acceptance of Christ as our soul source of comfort and salvation. God’s perfect love for us, believed by us, replaces fear with love. And where loves lives, hate and fear can never take hold.