Facing Our Fears


Recently a good friend of mine posted a quote from C. S. Lewis on my Facebook page. He wrote about the reaction many in the mid-twentieth century had to the atom bomb. Living under the cloud of possible annihilation was something no one had known before, and it engendered fear.

I found what Lewis said to be quite interesting because I saw similarities, too. I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis and saw any number of people installing bomb shelters and storing up dried foods. I don’t remember anything like the run on grocery stores we are seeing today, but the emotional reaction is so similar.

Here’s what Lewis wrote:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

(“On Living in an Atomic Age,” 1948 in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays by C.S. Lewis)

Fear is pretty much always with us. I had a personal experience that taught me a lot about fear when I was a young teacher living in Southern California. One summer we received report after report of a serial killer the press dubbed, the Night Stalker. We were informed that many of the victims lived near the freeway and that the killer entered through an unlocked door or open window.

This was summer, and hot, so I was sleeping with open windows and even an open door, albeit a locked screen. I lived a mere two blocks from a freeway. And one of the killings was in my town. Night after night I had to face the fear that this killer would take advantage of my circumstances and I would be his next victim.

It seems a little silly now, all these years later, realizing how slim the odds were that he would actually attack me. But the very random nature of his crimes created greater fear.

I was forced to face what I believe. Either I could trust God in the face of what felt like dangerous circumstances, or not.

This was not something that was an easy fix. The killing rampage went on for months. And each hot summer night I had to decide if I should close the windows and bolt and lock the door—which would mean a sleepless night amid the high temperatures—or do what I would normally do, which was to lock the screen and go to bed.

I’m still fearful of many things, but that summer I came face to face with the choice of trusting Jesus for my life—or not.

I didn’t write down my thought process, so I can’t be more specific. Did God use a sermon? Some passage of Scripture? Counsel from a friend? I don’t remember. But I know that I had to choose to trust God.

And I’ve chosen to trust Him time and time again when I’ve been face with dangerous things or hard things or new things and unknown.

Yes, I was scared as a young person during the Missile Crisis. I remember asking my mom what our family would do if the air raid siren sounded. At that point I was looking to the adults to have answers. I knew the fear, but I didn’t need to act to change what I was feeling. I needed to trust that they’d make the right decisions for me.

But my parents were trusting God and His promises. Ultimately I figured that out, and I suspect that served me well when I was faced with my own fear that fateful summer of the Night Stalker.

What I’ve learned since only reinforces what I learned then: God is faithful. Which doesn’t mean that I will automatically be spared hard things. I haven’t been. But even in the hard things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He watches over His people like a shepherd does his sheep. He gathers the lambs and carries them close, right next to his heart.

That’s the same God who will walk with us through this virus thing, and the ensuing panic and fear our friends and neighbors, and even we ourselves, may be tempted to display.

Published in: on March 17, 2020 at 5:26 pm  Comments Off on Facing Our Fears  
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What’s The Answer?


Lots of people are now talking about the latest virus spreading around the world, in part because of the measures the governments are taking to stem the spread, and in part because of the overreaction of people who apparently think toilet paper is a sanitizer.

I can guarantee that more toilet paper will not stop the virus from encroaching. So what’s a person to do?

I’ve thought about the fact that experiencing an illness with no known cure and which is highly contagious, is new to the twenty-first century. A hundred years ago there was an influenza in the pre-antibiotics days that killed thousands. My mom’s older half sister died of it when she was 15.

In centuries earlier, people dealt with the Black Plague and cholera and yellow fever and any number of other deadly diseases. People in those times understood that life didn’t come with a guarantee. You lived with hope, but you held your life loosely, viewing it as God’s to protect or to move “across the river.”

But in this new technological era, we know nothing about incurable, fast moving, deadly illness. AIDES came close, but the general population wasn’t necessarily at risk. You had some control over being exposed. Not so with an air-born virus. Or one that stays on a surface an infected person (or a carrier who has the virus but not the symptoms) has touched.

Suddenly life seems out of our control. The only way we can “fix” things, apparently, is to buy lots of toilet paper! And canned goods. And now, today, produce, as if that will not go bad within a week or two.

The problem, of course, is that our lives are not our own. We did nothing to bring about our birth and can do nothing to stave off the enemy of our soul and body: death. We don’t like having to face our mortality, but there it is.

So, what’s the answer? When the deadly virus stares us in the face, do we panic buy? Climb into our bomb shelters and pull the sanitized curtains around us?

I’ve seen some people act out of panic and buy things they clearly don’t need simply because they are trying to build a hedge against the desperation they feel. I’ve seen others mock the very problem, as if it is no problem at all. Most people have made some small concessions, a change here or there to their life style.

Some changes, of course, are foisted upon us by governments shutting down schools, the NCAA cancelling March Madness, the NBA bringing a halt to their season, and MLB putting a stop to spring training.

Other changes have come as people in leadership make decisions to cancel conferences or meetings, including church gatherings.

These changes must be dealt with and they can bring more fear along with them. They make the seriousness of this virus seem more real, more dangerous. I mean, a National Emergency? Various counties mandating quarantines?

Are these changes the answer?

Not to the fear people feel. Not to the reality of our mortality. That’s still there, whether we avoid contact with others or not. Whether we panic or self-quarantine or mock or make small concessions.

Fortunately, God does not leave us without counsel for such a time as this. Here’s a key verse from Psalm 16, though there are more great verses following. This one makes the point I think we need most:

I have set the LORD continually before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

I read that and thought of Peter, walking on water, heading toward Jesus . . . until he looked away at the wind and the waves.

In a traumatic situation such as a spreading virus, it’s tempting to look at the “wind and the waves,” and consequently start to sink into fear. It’s a temptation for us all, I think. But, God lets us know that He’s beside us. Whatever He calls us to go through, He’ll be right there with us. He will not now, or ever, leave us or forsake us.

Of course, for that to be true, He has to be part of our lives to begin with.

For anyone who puts his or her trust in Jesus, we have an anchor, a Father who holds us by the hand, in times of joy, sorrow, danger, peace. He does not leave us or forsake us.

It’s up to us to keep our eyes on Him. As Colossians 3 says

if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (vv 1-2)

Here are three practical things, based on Scripture, that we can or cannot do:

  1. Christians should behave in a way that marks us as Christians. We should still be kind to our neighbors, to the people in the never-ending grocery line.
  2. We should resist the urge to take over for God. We can’t hedge ourselves against death. Our times are in God’s hands. Buying extra canned goods will not extend our lives a single day beyond God’s plan for our lives.
  3. We should remember that God is faithful, not just in good times. He is faithful even when the storm swamps the boat, even when we’re pushed into the fiery furnace, even when we’re trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army. He’s faithful when we face a giant and all we have is a sling. He is faithful when we’re beaten and imprisoned for our stand for Jesus. He is not faithful in fair weather, only to abandon us in foul.
  4. We should pray. Pray for God’s comfort for the fearful (and that might include us), for protection, for His mercy so that He would stay His hand, even when we deserve His righteous judgment.

I’m sure there are lots of other things to talk about in regard to what we can do to be good neighbors and friends and family members. Already I’ve had several people check up on me just to be sure I’m doing OK. That’s kind and caring, and it’s a cool thing to do for others.

Who knows what else God might direct his people to do if we keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Published in: on March 16, 2020 at 5:47 pm  Comments (9)  
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What Does God Have To Do With Fear?


Daniel003I read the end of the book of Daniel today, and one thing that struck me was the fear Daniel experienced in the presence of the angel who came to answer his prayer. By this time Daniel was an older man who had been faithfully serving God from his teen years. He knew suffering and persecution and he also knew God’s blessing as he walked in obedience to Him.

So here’s this seasoned believer who has stood before kings, been thrown into a lion’s den, interpreted dreams, and ruled the magicians of Chaldea, but he’s so afraid he can hardly stand.

Here’s a glimpse of what Daniel experienced:

I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength. (Daniel 10:5-8)

He started out deathly afraid, and his fear grew. He fell into what we’d call a coma, but a hand touched him and he came to. Still, he was on his hands and knees and was trembling. So the being spoke to him, and he was able to stand, still trembling, though. The heavenly being told Daniel not to be afraid, but Daniel “turned his face to the ground and became speechless.”

Then a heavenly being who looked like a man touched him and he was able to talk. What he said makes it clear he wasn’t over his fear:

“O my lord, as a result of the vision [of the man dressed in linen—the person he was talking to] anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me.” (Daniel 10:16b-17)

Remember, this isn’t God he was talking to—“just” a messenger of God.

Scripture teaches God is to be feared. Psalm 130:4 states that a purpose of God’s forgiveness is to create fear. Of course, there is fear and then there is fear. So what are we talking about when we say forgiveness generates fear of the Lord?

Quite apparently this fear is not the dread of coming retribution. Forgiveness eliminates that kind of fear completely. Rather, I think it is an awesome awareness of what God is capable of—perhaps the fear Daniel experienced.

By illustration, think of a little kid watching his dad swat ball after ball in the batting cage. Afterward he looks up in wonder and says, “Wow, Daddy, I didn’t know you could do that.”

God’s forgiveness does the same thing—it generates awe and makes us think, If He can forgive my sin, what can’t He do.

The interesting, and perhaps confusing, thing is that the God we bow before in amazement is the same God who ought to generate great fear, according to Jesus, because He has the power to judge and to condemn:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt. 12:28)

So which is it? Fear or fear?

Perhaps another illustration would be helpful. All kinds of things here on earth should generate healthy respect—guns, dynamite, fire, knives, lightning, speeding cars, pounding waves, steep cliffs, electricity, and so on.

lightbulb-1-922847-mTake electricity, for instance. It makes life as we know it in the western world possible, so if we think of it at all, our attitude is most likely gratitude. Rarely do we think to be afraid of electricity. Yet if a small child picked up a screw driver and headed for an electrical outlet, most adults would rush to intervene. And if a toddler is a regular in a home, it’s not unusual to find all the vacant outlets protected with plastic caps.

Adults don’t need to be afraid of electricity, but we have a healthy fear of it. We aren’t going to abuse it or misuse it or let small children play with it because we know the results could be deadly. At the same time, we flip switches and change light bulbs and plug and unplug electrical cords with care but not with fear. We don’t lie awake at night trembling at the thought of a potential electrical shock.

In the same way, when we are in right relationship with God, we don’t tremble in the fear that He will turn His wrath on us. Nevertheless, we recognize His wrath, and that it is a fearful thing. In fact, our fear—our awareness of His power, our awe at what He is capable of—should make us quick to run to the aid of someone who is “carelessly handling” God, who is putting himself in jeopardy because he does not himself yet fear the Lord.

Paul says it well:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. (2 Cor. 5:10-11a, ESV, emphasis mine)

Of course false teaching about hell and God’s wrath and God’s righteous judgment might dissuade genuine Christians from seeking to persuade others of the fear of the Lord. Will we become so numb to the seriousness of falling into the hands of an angry God that we forget to run to the aid of those who are about to thrust their fingers into a live light socket?

A portion of this post appeared here in April 2011 under this same title.

Published in: on April 9, 2015 at 6:56 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fear And The Christian


King_Saul006Yet another serial killer surfaced in the US this week. The Stock Market took a beating last week, Ebola is killing more people (more Africans have died in this last outbreak than Americans who died in the World Trade Center), and ISIS is threatening yet another town.

All this on top of the usual fears about aging and relationships and child rearing and politics and job stability and drought (or hurricanes or floods or earthquakes, depending on what part of the country you make your home).

I see people talking about fear and panic, especially in connection with Ebola—though only two people contracted it on US soil. The news ran a piece about not needing to be afraid of the people returning from quarantine. The CDC put in new guidelines to protect medical personnel caring for Ebola patients. And there’s some quick response team that’s being prepared—part of the National Guard, I think, but don’t quote me.

All these preparations sound logical and necessary, but what we haven’t learned yet is that God is not subject to our plans and precautions. Should He wish to judge this nation or any other part of the world by sending pestilence, all our careful plans will not stop what God intends to do.

King Saul never learned that lesson.

He was disobedient to God and lied about it. As a result, Samuel, speaking the word of God, told Saul the kingdom would be torn from his hands. Instead of repenting and acknowledging God’s sovereign right to do as He chooses, Saul tried to hold onto the kingdom God said he’d lose.

At first he pretended he was doing it for his son Jonathan. Except, there came a day, Saul tried to kill Jonathan because of his friendship with David. Scratch the “I’m doing it for my son” excuse.

Irony of irony, when Saul was about to go into his last battle, he inquired of God whether or not he’d be successful. God was not answering. Saul went to the priest, offered sacrifices, used the ephod which was apparently some form of divining God’s will, and uniformly, he got no response.

He really didn’t need one. God had already given His verdict on Saul and his kingdom, but Saul didn’t like what God had to say. So he persisted. He went to a spiritist—apparently someone who could divine the future through some means apart from God.

Again, he didn’t hear what he wanted to hear. Yes, the woman he went to, the medium, brought up Samuel who Saul wanted to talk to. But Samuel’s message was anything but comforting:

The LORD has done accordingly as He spoke through me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, to David. As you did not obey the LORD and did not execute His fierce wrath on Amalek, so the LORD has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the LORD will also give over Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines, therefore tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. Indeed the LORD will give over the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines!” (1 Sam. 28:17-19)

Not only did this message confirm God’s judgment, but now Saul knew it was imminent. He reacted like most people would react—with fear.

Then Saul immediately fell full length upon the ground and was very afraid because of the words of Samuel (v. 20a)

This occasion is one of the few times in Scripture when a person responded in fear to a spiritual being and wasn’t told not to fear. In other words, Saul received no comfort. He was faced with God’s judgment and he was afraid.

How different life is for the Christian. Of course we face fearful things. Christians are not immune to cancer or ALS or car accidents or terrorists flying planes into the ground. Christians lose their homes in economic downturns and get laid off and don’t know how they’ll pay the phone bill.

We face the same problems in the world that our unsaved friends and neighbors face. But in all this there’s a difference. From Psalm 37:

When he falls he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

We’re not going to be hurled headlong, and we know it. We might die or be in a wheelchair for forty years or lose a spouse or have a stroke, but that is not the end, and we know it.

Through those circumstances we have the great comfort that we aren’t going through them alone, because the Lord is the One who holds our hand. He isn’t going to grab us after we fall (though there’s a pretty funny joke about that). He’s with us, holding onto us, keeping us as we go through those circumstances.

And for me, that changes everything.

Published in: on October 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Poor Church That Is Rich


Painting of the Gulf of SmyrnaIn delivering messages to the angels of seven first century churches, Jesus generally confronted them about problem areas. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He contradicts the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich. This could possibly be a comparative indicator similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to “the one percent” most of us would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual conditions versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who fled Mosul may be poor now. They’ve been forced out of their homes, have only the belongings they could carry, may not have a way to make a living in whatever refugee camp they’ve landed. They are poor and are suffering tribulation physically in the truest sense.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers to receive doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have the promise for that faithfulness: the crown of life and, if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know we who are in Christ will be like Him. So are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, with Ebola in Africa and tornadoes in Boston, with flooding in Las Vegas and bombs flying back and forth between Gaza and Israel, with Russian-backed terrorists fighting to divide Ukraine and ISIS attacking Christians, with Nigerian girls held captive by Muslim terrorists, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

Published in: on July 29, 2014 at 5:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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Do Not Be Shocked Nor Fear Them


Israel led by pillar of cloudsI could just as easily title this post “Lessons from Deuteronomy,” but then it would have to be the first in a twenty-five part series. The book is a mixture of Moses’s summary of the exodus, his recap of the law, and a few of his gems of wisdom.

Some time ago I pulled out a handful of those gems and memorized them. They were hard because the ones I picked happened to be similar to one another. One, however, I recently put into context, and I don’t think I’ll forget it again.

Moses was recounting to the people of Israel weeks, maybe days, before they were to enter the promised land, what had transpired during the past forty years. Some of them hadn’t been born when Israel broke free of their slavery to Egypt. Some were too young to know or remember all that happened. Only the oldest, who would have been teens at the time, would nod their heads and say, I remember that’s how it was.

At any rate, Moses came to the part of the story about sending spies into the land and about their report when they returned. The people were in a near panic at what they heard. So Moses jumped in to calm them down:

Then I said to you, do not be shocked nor fear them; the Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf. (Deut. 1:29-30a)

No matter the age of the person listening to Moses, they knew precisely what he meant when he said, “The Lord your God who goes before you,” because Israel didn’t break camp unless the Shekinah glory of God–a visible pillar of cloud or fire–rose from the tabernacle and went ahead of them. Then when God’s presence stopped, they stopped.

But here’s what I think is the cool part of these verses. The people of Israel had just heard the report that there were giants in the land. Giants! And they were supposed to go up and conqueror.

Then Moses said, Do not be shocked nor fear them.

Can you imagine? That’s like saying, yes, you are surrounded by poisonous snakes but do not be shocked nor fear them.

Really, Moses?

If he’d stopped there, his statement would make no sense. But he went on to explain why the people weren’t to be shocked at such shocking news: God, the very God they had witnessed leading them from place to place, would Himself fight on their behalf.

Oh. Well! Maybe giants weren’t so fearsome after all.

Interestingly, my thoughts about this verse dovetailed with my pastor’s sermon about Mary. We’re studying the book of Luke and this week we looked at the prophecy from Simeon when he told Mary, “A sword will pierce even your own soul.”

We can speculate about the scorn and ridicule Mary had to live with as an unwed pregnant woman. We know she faced the very real possibility that her betrothed would divorce her before they ever married. He didn’t because of God’s intervention. But before the rumors had begun to fade, she and her husband were fleeing before Herod’s jealousy in order to spare the life of this infant son of hers. A sword would pierce her soul.

I wonder what she thought when she got word that any number of babies the same age as Jesus had been killed in the region.

I wonder if she felt a pang of rejection when, as a budding man at the age of twelve, Jesus said He needed to be about His Father’s business, and He wasn’t talking about carpentry.

Pastor posed the question: if Mary had known all the grief she’d go through when Gabriel first announced to her that she, a virgin, would give birth to the holy one from God, would she have been so quick to say to him, “May it be done to me according to your word”?

It’s easy to say, of course she would have. But she hadn’t seen the giants in the land. She didn’t know, the way the people of Israel knew, what she was up against.

Pastor walked us through various events recorded in Scripture–things such as Jesus’s rejection in His home town (a mom would feel that for her son, but might the hatred for Him have spilled out on her?), His declaration that those who believed His words where His mother and brothers (a practical repudiation of His relationship with her), ultimately His crucifixion (the death of her first born)–which show just how acute the piercing of Mary’s soul must have been.

But Pastor pointed out that what we know of her story ends in the book of Acts. After the resurrection, the disciples, and with them Mary and Jesus’s brothers, were together when the Holy Spirit came upon them. All the heartache she went through ended up to be worth it.

The same fact the people of Israel experienced. They wandered the wilderness because of their fears, but in the end, they experienced the joy of the God who went before them fighting on their behalf.

How much more can the Christian say with joyful triumph, there might be giants in the land, but I’m not shocked, and I don’t fear them. My God already has won the victory through Christ my Savior and my Lord.

Published in: on October 8, 2013 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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What Does God Have To Do With Fear?


In yesterday’s Fear And Forgiveness post I centered my thoughts on Psalm 130:4 which states that a purpose of God’s forgiveness is to create fear. As some who commented pointed out, there is fear and then there is fear. So what are we talking about when we say forgiveness generates fear of the Lord?

Quite apparently this fear is not the dread of coming retribution. Forgiveness eliminates that kind of fear completely. Rather, I think it is an awesome awareness of what God is capable of.

By illustration, think of a little kid watching his dad swat ball after ball in the batting cage. Afterward he looks up in wonder and says, “Wow, Daddy, I didn’t know you could do that.”

God’s forgiveness does the same thing — it generates awe and makes us think, If He can forgive my sin, what can’t He do.

The interesting, and perhaps confusing, thing is that the God we bow before in amazement is the same God who ought to generate great fear, according to Jesus, because He has the power to judge and to condemn:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
– Matt. 12:28

So which is it? Fear or fear?

Perhaps another illustration would be helpful. All kinds of things here on earth should generate healthy respect — guns, dynamite, fire, knives, lightning, speeding cars, pounding waves, steep cliffs, electricity, and so on.

Take electricity, for instance. It makes life as we know it in the western world possible, so if we think of it at all, our attitude is most likely gratitude. Rarely do we think to be afraid of electricity. Yet if a small child picked up a screw driver and headed for an electrical outlet, most adults would rush to intervene. And if a toddler is a regular in a home, it’s not unusual to find all the vacant outlets protected with plastic caps.

Adults don’t need to be afraid of electricity, but we have a healthy fear of it. We aren’t going to abuse it or misuse it or let small children play with it because we know the results could be deadly. At the same time, we flip switches and change light bulbs and plug and unplug electrical cords with care but not with fear. We don’t lie awake at night trembling at the thought of a potential electrical shock.

In the same way, when we are in right relationship with God, we don’t tremble in the fear that He will turn His wrath on us. Nevertheless, we recognize His wrath, and that it is a fearful thing. In fact, our fear — our awareness of His power, our awe at what He is capable of — should make us quick to run to the aid of someone who is “carelessly handling” God, who is putting himself in jeopardy because he does not himself yet fear the Lord.

Paul says it well:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
– 2 Cor. 5:10-11a, ESV [emphasis mine]

My other fear is that false teaching about hell and God’s wrath and God’s righteous judgment will dissuade genuine Christians from seeking to persuade others. Will we become so numb to the seriousness of falling into the hands of an angry God that we forget to run to the aid of those about to thrust their fingers in a live light socket?

Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Comments (6)  
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Fear And Forgiveness


One of the things that has come up in exchanges with emergent thinkers, whether through blog posts, videos, or books, is the idea that God is not to be feared. Some believe this a la Rob Bell — hell isn’t God’s wrathful punishment on the unrepentant.

Others, a la Paul Young — God, as portrayed in The Shack, serves Man. (“I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love.”)

Another group, a la Mike Morrell — God is to be re-imaged as a learning, evolving being who himself repented of his violent nature and through Jesus preached love instead.

One commenter to a year-old post said, “And for the first time in my life, I no longer fear GOD…which is a huge step toward maybe coming to a place where I can trust GOD.”

That attitude stuck with me. Consequently, as I’ve read through the Old Testament, I’ve made mental notes of people’s response to God. What I noticed most was reverential fear.

The people of Israel, for example, were so afraid of God after He talked with them, they told Moses to be their intermediary from then on because they didn’t want to die! Others fell on their faces, some apparently became as dead men.

The fear of the Lord is a theme throughout the books of poetry, too. But none grabbed me more than this one:

But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
– Psalm 130:4

That short verse contains the heart of God’s nature, I think. Yes, God is all powerful and will pour out His wrath on unrepentant sinners, but those who fear Him are the forgiven.

It is we who revere Him because we realize He is our lifeline, the enduring thread that holds us to His side. How can we but bow down and worship when the insurmountable debt we owed has been lifted from us to His scarred shoulders?

Might the unrepentant sinner also fear God? Perhaps in an angry, rebellious sort of way. The unrepentant sinner who believes in God may not see that He is just, that when He stands in judgment, His view of His creation is right and true. Consequently, a person who believes God to have the power to mete out punishment may not think it is fair of Him to do so.

This is not genuine fear, but imagined fear, more closely aligned to being afraid of the monster under the bed than the reverential terror described in Scripture when someone came face to face with God.

And yet …

The amazing thing is that God loves us. Which explains the forgiveness part. And the forgiveness causes the face-to-the floor response to God because of the wonder that such a Great Person could and would and did die for me.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm  Comments (13)  
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Times Like These, It’s Good To Know


I’ve been reading in the Psalms lately. Lots of them were written by David. Some draw on images that only a shepherd would think of. Some seem to be straight from the heart of a man being persecuted unfairly. Others are cries for forgiveness.

The amazing thing is that they seem so relevant.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend, and it seemed every topic led to uncertainty. What’s happening in Egypt? Will the unrest lead to democracy or a radical Islamic dictatorship? Will the changes taking place ultimately stabilize the Middle East or upset the tenuous peace that’s existed for the last forty years?

Or how about the economy? The state of the state address California’s recycled governor delivered this week? How about family? My friend’s mom requires more and more help and is dealing with serious medical issues. Her son? Not in church. Church? This issue or that, and my own church is in the beginning stages of looking for a new pastor. Let’s see, how about the weather — the near record snowstorm back in the Midwest or perhaps the gale winds pummeling the Southland?

On and on it goes. Because, let’s face it, life is hard. And some parts of life are harder than others.

In times like these, it’s good to know what God says in His Word. Take these verses in Psalm 27, one of David’s:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the LORD. (vv 13-14)

That’s the way I feel. “I would have despaired …” But I’m not despairing because God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living. He is still God and as such I can count on Him just as David did, or Abraham or Moses.

Look at what Moses said to the people of Israel as he was preparing to die. Yes, he knew he was going to climb a mountain, look into the promised land, and die. Yet he passed on these words to the people of Israel. They faced battle and he faced death. I think they all could have been scared. I know the parents of those Israelites about to cross the Jordan had been scared, so much so that they decided to stop following God.

Now it was the children’s turn … and the end of Moses’s leadership. So he told them

Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf. (Deut. 1:29b-30a)

And later He said

You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. (Deut. 7:21)

My favorite words of comfort from Moses to the people might be these:

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you He will not fail you or forsake you. (Deut. 31:6)

In times like these, it’s good to know that God is with me. It’s good to be reminded that He will not fail me or forsake me. It’s good to be admonished to be courageous not fearful, to be strong and not tremble at the next thing on the nightly news.

Thank God He is sovereign, in control, still going ahead of His people to fight on our behalf. What a great God we have!

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Expression Of Reverence – Fear


The second part of Professor Gregory Spencer’s article “Reverence: The Church Without Shoes,” taken from his book Awakening the Quieter Virtues, deals with what he calls The Reverence Continuum. From his study, he sees reverence expressed “in a kind of progression from fear to joy.”

I think he’s onto something. I’ve noticed in discussion with emergent thinkers like Mike Morrell or with various atheists, one of the issues that comes up repeatedly is this idea that God is a tyrant standing over us so that we cower in fear. I had a family member dismiss the Old Testament on these same grounds—God isn’t like that, they say. (Well, except for the atheist who says, That is what the Bible makes God out to be and I can’t accept a God like that, so I choose no god at all.)

What they miss is where a holy fear of a Holy God leads—joy, reverential joy. But fear is a part of this, and we’re not talking about the awe and respect that many think of when they speak of the fear of the Lord, though those responses are on the Reverence Continuum.

I remember when I first realized that a part of me was just a little afraid of my dad. It was a shocking realization and I felt a stab of disloyalty because I loved my father. But we were in the child-rearing phase when my mother said on occasion, Wait until your father gets home. So yes, I had a little healthy fear that I had broken faith with my dad, that he would be displeased and would deliver a just punishment that I didn’t want to bear.

Of course my childhood fear of my father is only a fraction of the fear that those prophets of old experienced when they fell on their faces before God. Here’s what Dr. Spencer had to say:

I don’t know about you, but Jesus scares me with his warning about how he’ll separate the sheep and goats and send the goats, who did not attend to “the least” among us, to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-46). He said this not long after he cursed a fig tree because it did not bear fruit—and the tree withered and died (21:18-19). Jesus may be the son of love, but he is also the one who told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mark 8:33). Would it be appropriate to stroll up to God and say, “Hey Big Guy, nice job on the giraffe”?

He then elaborates on the statement in Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Sometimes the only thing that gets us started in the right direction is fear: the fear of getting caught or the fear of being embarrassed at poor performance. Fear may not be the end of wisdom, but it is often the beginning because it shows we recognize our impoverishment. If fear is the only thing that gets us to kneel, then being frightened by God’s power and holiness is meaningful, though being in this situation might reveal more about us than it does about God.

But best of all is Dr. Spencer’s conclusion about fear as an expression of reverence:

Good fear can also put bad fear in its place. If we worship the gods of acceptance, popularity and success, we will overly fear rejection, loneliness and failure. If we revere God more, we will fear those lesser gods less. Whom do we most fear to disappoint?

What can I add to that!

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm  Comments (1)  
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