If we consider that the Bible, on approximately 365 occasions, says “Fear not,” we are quickly made aware of two facts: God knows that we live in a world that is a fearful place, and God wants us to live without fear.
The first intimation of fear is in Genesis 3:10 (KJV): “I heard Thy voice … and I was afraid.” Sin brought with it fear, a fear of meeting God. Prior to the entrance of sin, there was no fear, and no reason to fear. But sin introduced, among many things, the element of fear into our world.
It is interesting to think that, since He was without sin, the Lord Jesus did not know fear in that sense. He was marked by the “fear of God,” which is an entirely different emotion. The fear of God is a desire to please Him, not a dread of Him. The Lord Jesus moved through this world without fear of man in perfect repose upon His God.
But we, in contrast, are quite accustomed to fear. It is part of the human condition, an uncomfortable experience we have all had. It takes many forms and shapes and afflicts some of us more than others. Fear can produce anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors, panic, and, in severe forms, can rule lives and destroy usefulness for God. At times, however, fear is the only appropriate response in an evil world; yet even here there is a resource for us, as we shall see.
Fear can arise from many different sources. Life experiences, physical and emotional trauma, sexual abuse, and the evil all around us are just some of the many causes for the fear we experience. Some fear the future and eternity – a wholesome fear that, if addressed in honesty, can lead to spiritual blessing. Others are occupied with and fear the disapproval of their peers. Men-pleasing is addressed in Scripture and likened to a snare (Prov 29:25). Fear for the future can also include financial and health issues. Faced with a bad health diagnosis and an uncertain future, fear would be our default position.
The first occurrence of God’s “fear not” is found in Genesis 15:1 where God tells Abram, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (KJV). Consideration of this Scripture and its context may help us to understand some key principles and gain insights into the roots of this paralyzing emotion. The first thing, however, that confronts us is that it is the man of faith, Abram, who is being reassured and whose fears are being allayed. So fear does not mean failure. God knows that we face, just as did Abram, some frightening circumstances.
Abram had just returned from a great victory (Gen 14), the world’s first “world war,” and had been confronted by the king of Sodom. He had ceded all the spoils of war to the ungodly man, content with the souls he had rescued. In effect, he was refusing an alliance with the king, turning his back on Sodom. Here he was a pilgrim with 318 servant-soldiers, alone in a big and evil world. No doubt he felt vulnerable. This is the first thing we need to note about fear: it is the result of feeling at risk, vulnerable, before forces that can overwhelm. Coupled with this is a sense of things being beyond our control. The world in which Abram moved, and in which we move, is an evil world. Well might Abram have concerns about the loss of possessions, the future, and even life itself. He could not control the response of the king of Sodom, a response which could have dire consequences for Abram and his family, finances, and future.
These are only some of the issues involved in fear. We can fear the loss of approval, the sneer of the world, the scorn of the skeptic, and the laugh of the mocker. We can, like Peter, quake before a little maid when we begin to consider the response and disapproval of others (Mark 14:66-70).
In God’s short but eloquent reassurance to Abram, we find the antidotes to fear. Whatever the cause of my fear, if I am able to appreciate these basic truths, I can find rest and confidence in God. Notice that God reveals Himself to Abram as “Thy shield.” The first truth to grasp is that we have a God
…who is aware
He knows what you are passing through. He fully understands your vulnerability and the evil in the hearts of men all around you. Your way is not hid from Him as Jacob complained (Isa 40:27). God allows you to be vulnerable as you live in a big and bad world, so that you can learn to trust Him. His omniscience and omnipotence have not waned with the passing millennia (Isa 40:26). The God Who knows and names the stars also counts the hairs on your head and He knows all about your trials and tears.
It would be of little consolation to have a God Who is aware, if that God did not also care about us. The wonderful truth is that He is aware of every sparrow falling to the ground. He is fully aware and cares for you (1Peter 5:7). His message to questioning Jacob is that “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom” (Isa 40:11). He still cares for each of His with individual, undivided attention. None of us is able to give undivided attention to two people at the same time. But we are dealing with a God Who is infinite in His person and resources.
In that wonderful section of comfort to the nation of Israel (Isa 40-66), God contrasts Himself with the idols that men make and have to carry with them. He is the Maker and He is the One Who will bear His children (Isa 46:4) through trial and testing, through wilderness journeys and a wicked world.
The Psalmist became aware, as he trod the valley of that shadow, that as God drew near, he could “fear no evil” (Psa 23:4). God’s presence and fellowship with him through the valley drove away fear.
We can live in a fearful and evil world because of a God Who knows our fears, Who shows His love and care, and Who bestows grace for every situation.