Do Not Fear What They Fear

We live in a world of political intrigue and conspiracy theories. Some would tell us that the planet is doomed in just a few years because of climate change. Some would suggest that a faceless conglomerate of uber-rich and powerful people is running the nation from behind the scenes. The news media seems corrupt beyond repair. The nation is divided politically like we never imagined it would be. Families are foundering. And all sorts of isms, racism, classism, sexism, are tearing our world apart.

In truth, any number of the things listed above may be real problems. For sure, some are quite real and quite dangerous. But what is a Christian’s heart response to the messed-up world we live in?

In Isaiah 8, God is continuing a conversation with Judah through Isaiah. The northern kingdom has just about reached the end of its rope. God is about to allow the king of Assyria to sweep into the land and conquer. And that powerful ruler will threaten Judah as well, coming near to the city of Jerusalem itself. But God promises that he will deliver the people of Judah from this threat. They are to know, as God promised with the birth of a child who would be called Emmanuel, that God would be with them.

Isaiah 8:11-15 – 11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

This was the paragraph that started me down the road of considering the fears and conspiracy theories that are so prominent in our world today. Some of our fears and concerns are very real and right. Some are kooky. But all of our fears, if not checked, can lead us to look like the lost world and not like followers of the living God.

Our God would tell us not to fear what the rest of the world fears. God would say that there is not necessarily a conspiracy everywhere the world around us sees one. And even when there is a conspiracy, God would also remind us to fear him, obey him, shelter in him, and find life in him.

If we shelter in the Lord, will the world leave us alone? No, God did not say that. He said that he would be a shelter for us—that’s something we like. But he also said that he will be a stumbling block and offense to the world around us—that’s something we are not so fond of. Christians, grasp that both of these things are true. Trusting in and fearing the Lord means that your soul is finding real shelter under his wings. But to shelter in the Lord and love him and his word is to offend the world around us. There is no other way to be faithful to the Lord.

No, I’m not saying we go out and try to be annoying. Nor am I suggesting that we should not care about doing right by the environment, the oppressed, or the government. We should do all that we can do to live justly and righteously and mercifully in our world. But all that we can do is circumscribed by the commands of our God. And that same God is the One we actually fear. We do not tremble at the things the world around us says are big deals. We do not identify ourselves with worldly causes so much so that our identity as followers of Jesus takes a back seat.

God was offering comfort and counsel to Isaiah by reminding him that God was with him and would not ultimately let Jerusalem fall to
Assyria. God has given us his word to remind us of his eternal plan. We are to set our minds and hearts on eternity, on things above. We are to store up our treasure in heaven where moths and thieves are no problem. We are to find our hope in Jesus who lived, died, and lives again. We are to find our value, not in the opinions of the people around us, but in the approval of our Savior and our joy in his glory.

God and Our Fears

Fear stinks. I’m not here talking about the holy, reverent, proper fear of God. I’m talking about all the rest of fear. I’m talking about the fear of man—they might know me, they might hurt me, they might not like me. I’m talking about the fear of the future—I might get sick, I might not have enough money, I might not survive.

How do I know fear stinks? God’s word is pretty clear about that fact. And, if I’m honest, I know what it is like to be afraid. No matter how strong any of us pretends to be, we deal with fears. Whether your constitution is generally more robust or weaker, I expect that you know something of fear. And, let’s be honest, it really stinks.

I thought a bit about fear as these two very separate passages happened to come up during my daily reading plan.

Psalm 27:1

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Hebrews 13:5–6

5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

God inspired the writers of Scripture to say things that you and I need to hear. And in this pairing of verses, God speaks clearly to us about fear. Both passages clearly acknowledge that fear is a real thing. If it were not, it would be silly for God to speak of it to us. God knows that fear will be a danger for us. And God has a solution for us.

In both passages, what is the solution for fear? We see David ask, “Whom shall I fear?” We see the writer to the Hebrews remind us of the line, “I will not fear.” But how? How do we overcome fear, especially when we know fear is not a generally rational thing.

In both passages, we see the same answer to fear. It is a genuine trust in the Lord. “Whom shall I fear” is not a question asked alone. It applies when the psalmist declares that the Lord is his light, salvation, and the stronghold of his life. In Hebrews, it is the presence of God, our helper, who will never leave nor forsake us, that helps us overcome fear. In both places, fear is conquered, not by the “power of positive thinking,” not by ignoring reality, but totally by knowing, relying on, and resting in God.

Fear stinks because it eats us up inside. Fear stinks even more because it displays that, for that moment, we are not believing in the Lord we say is our God. Fear stinks because it dishonors our Lord and makes us live like those with no hope.

How then shall we conquer that fear? We must remember. We need to remember the reality of our God. We need to remember that our God is with us. We need to remember that our God is faithful. We need to remember that he has staked his reputation on the fact that he will not leave us or forsake us. We remember our God, we remember eternity, we remember the strength of the Lord, and we learn to rest. No, this is not easy. You will need to work at it. You will need to pray through it. You will need Christian friends to remind you of the truths of God’s word when your mind is refusing to go there. But believers battle fear with faith in the Lord who saves us.

Hope When We Hurt

One of the flaws of modern church, modern worship, and much modern writing is that we have no category for pain. We will acknowledge, from a distance, that sometimes people hurt. But, in the main, when we think of the Christian life, it is often presented as a happy, successful, progressively better experience. As the sappy old hymn declares, Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.”

But, is every day better than the last? Do we progress from happy to happy, from better to better, with seldom a bump in the road? This is not the real experience of many a Christian. So what do we do?

The book of Lamentations is one of those books we seldom see quoted. It is dark and tear-filled. Jeremiah the prophet has witnessed the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. He has wept over the brutality of the Babylonians as they came in and crushed Judah. And, in truth, there is little to offer comfort at present. The nation will be captive for 70 years, and nothing Jeremiah will do will change that.

Look at what Jeremiah writes, seeing both his sorrow and his hope.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Jeremiah’s soul is bowed down. He hurts. He is grieving deeply. His heart is pumping the bitterest poison into his soul. What does he do? Does he pretend it is not there? Nope. Does he pretend every little thing is going to be just fine? Nope. Does he pretend that harshness and evil have not overtaken the land? Nope.

But Jeremiah finds hope in one truth: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Life hurts. God is still good. Our world can crumble. God is faithful. Our lives may fall apart. God will never leave us or forsake us. We may fail. God has new mercies.

Great is thy faithfulness only works when we see it in the light of our own dark, hurtful, overwhelmed world. Life hurts us deeply. Life pumps poison into our hearts from time to time. God is faithful. God cares. God knows.

In truth, in the Son of God, we know that he has experienced this. Jesus lived perfectly, and suffered greatly. He was mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, betrayed, and condemned. Jesus truly received in justice. And he knew his Father was still faithful. Even as he breathed his last, the Savior could say, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

You might take a moment to argue that this is not fair. Jesus knew that he would die and then rise again. And I would say to you, “Exactly!” If you are a believer, so will you. Your hope for comfort comes in two places. The mercies of the Lord and the sustaining power of his Spirit are with us now, renewed day by day. And we too will die and rise again in Christ. We too have eternal hope of eternal joy. Jeremiah says it is good for us to hope in and wait in the salvation of the Lord. It will come, in this life or the next. And that is our hope. We do not gain anything by pretending pain is not real. But we gain much by realizing that God is good, that God’s glory is eternal, that resurrection is our hope, and that we will see glory because of God’s great faithfulness.