“Do not fear.”
Surely there’s a reason this imperative is more common than all the others in the Bible. It may not be the greatest commandment, but it is repeated more often than anything about loving others, and yes, even loving God Himself.
It’s also indirectly referred to countless times. The Israelites stockpiling manna despite God telling them He’d give them more (Exodus 16). One of the primary drivers of the Pharisees’ hatred for Jesus throughout the Gospels was fear. You might even argue that the rich fool in Luke 12 was motivated by fear to hoard his wealth.
In a book and culture where repetition is just as important to notice as the story and lessons being illustrated, it’s safe to say that fear is a big deal to God.
For those of us who follow Christ, I can’t think of a single case where fear doesn’t display a lack of trust in Whom we claim to have faith in. Satan uses it to completely shut us down. It’s the most foundational crack in our faith, and it can manifest itself in so many different ways. There is the fear of rejection, the unknown, or the fear of being “found out.” It could be fear of illness or death, of being wrong about our beliefs, of poverty, or maybe fear of being lonely or powerless. And with each of these comes a set of idolistic reactions and symptoms that continuously drive us further away from God’s will.
Before we can address fear, we have to define it correctly. Each command God issues in the Bible (against idolatry, for example, or in favor of love) not only tells us how to live righteously, but simultaneously defines something sinful to avoid.The opposite of each command represents a sin. This means fear (the most common command) isn’t the natural feeling we think we’re justified in having but is rather a sin resulting from the fall of man like all the others.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first time Adam and Eve showed fear was right after they had eaten from the forbidden fruit. They hid from God in the garden basically out of a fear of being found out (Genesis 3). Fear was the reason Adam and Eve rejected God’s presence for the first time, which became the first illustration of being separated from Him.
It seems strange to approach fear as a temptation. As a sin, however, it’s preceded by a moment of choice just like all the other sins where we have the opportunity to follow and love God, or try to rely on ourselves (or someone else equally flawed). And just like every other sin, God wants us to reject fear because it is one of the primary ways that leads to our separation from Him.
We tend to think of courage as the final solution to fear, but it really only gets us half-way. Courage is great, and certainly admirable, but it doesn’t cut to the root of fear as much as we might try to convince ourselves that it does. As so many inspirational quote posters point out, courage is the choice to press on despite having fear. It’s a stepping stone to the real solution of ridding ourselves of fear entirely, which is trust.
Show courage in the face of a certain fear enough times, and you’ll start to develop a trust that wipes out the fear completely and replaces it with a confidence that slowly becomes second nature. But it takes practice and many intentional choices to get there.
Fear is so easily learned. It might actually be one of the first things we’re taught by the world around us. That’s possibly why the Bible works so hard to teach against it and help us unlearn it.
It’s impossible to confidently trust something without first learning a few things about it. And we can’t learn about something without intentionally pursuing it and paying close attention to it. That means prayer, reading from the Bible, and finding at least a few cheerleaders to help keep us focused and encouraged.
Friendships serve this cheerleading purpose (at least they should), and so should parenting. Don’t worry, this single, childless writer is not about to get into parenting advice. But every parent has an opportunity to inspire courage in their children that will lead them into a more trusting relationship with God and a less fearful relationship with the world.