Fear & Anxiety

Questions received this week dealt with trusting God with so much uncertainty about so many things right now. Are Christians acting out of fear?

Throughout scripture God instructs us not to do those things that are not right for God’s people. It is because a child is inclined to do something that a loving parent instructs him not to. Our Father does the same for us. The first commandment is “Do not have other gods besides Me”. Exodus 20:3. Why would He tell us this? Because our inclination is to do just that and elevate something above God.

 

Jesus said “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15. The obvious reason He said this is because we are inclined in that direction and need to be reminded. It is good to work hard and be able to have nice, quality things. It does mean that in doing so there is a line we should be aware of and not cross in to being greedy and covetous. It is ok to have a nice pair of shoes. It is not ok to be upset because there’s a more expensive pair out there.

 

A parent comforts a child during a thunderstorm because to a small child, thunderstorms can be very frightening. There also are numerous Bible verses telling us not to fear. Jesus said. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27. Fear is a normal human response in certain situations in the world in which we live. Just as too much desire leads to greed, too much uneasiness leads to being fearful.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7. The spirit that comes from God does not produce fear. This doesn’t mean that we will never be afraid or anxious. This is not a commandment but an instruction to acknowledge our responses and then put them into a proper scriptural perspective. It would not indicate a sound mind if someone read this verse and concluded they can stand out in a lightning storm and hold a golf club up in the air because there is nothing to fear.

 

Immediately after Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 we see these verses:

 

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Exodus 20:18-20. In verse 20 Moses tells the people not to be afraid but at the same time they should be afraid – fear God.

 

In the natural world, the list of things that cause people fear and anxiety is nearly endless. Most are normal and healthy and don’t interfere with normal functioning. (More on healthy fear further down.) Extreme fears and phobias can be debilitating. Some common excessive fears are very common widely accepted as even normal even for Christians – such as acrophobia – fear of heights or nyctophobia – fear of the dark. Others are less common but very real to those who experience them, such as barophobia – the fear of gravity or scoptophobia – the fear of being stared at. Wait a minute! Who likes to be stared at?

 

The point is that we label a wide range of responses as “fearful” and “anxious”. Some are appropriate and healthy while other thoughts and actions are not. Appropriate fear is a healthy, God given response to things that can cause us harm and pain. Inappropriate fears that interfere with our normal lives and our peace are misguided. A response (fear) that is intended to help us avoid pain causes pain (fear).

 

Determining whether fears are irrational and detrimental to our mental and spiritual health or are rational, reasonable and healthy will often be influenced by an individual’s history and experience. We all evaluate danger based on previous life experiences which provide us with information that informs our emotional and rational responses to potential threats. A child has no emotional or logical fear of fire until he has been burned. If he is burned repeatedly and traumatically, his fear of fire will be both justified and enduring. One of the challenges going forward is to separate an irrational, emotionally triggered fear or anxiety from practical information-based conclusions. A child who has been burned and develops heliophobia (a debilitating fear of the sun) is very different from someone who has a family history of skin cancer and avoids the sun. The first response is irrational and the second is not. To say “I don’t sunbathe because I’m afraid of getting cancer” is neither emotional nor irrational.

 

Someone who has never suffered a serious illness has little fear of becoming sick whereas someone with pre-existing health issues will naturally be more cautious. They should be “fearful” because of previous experiences and a very real potential for serious or fatal illness. I personally experienced chronic back pain for 25 years. I have had two back surgeries and I am very cautious – fearful – of hurting my back again. For a more extreme example, who would not look before crossing a busy highway? What’s the matter – afraid? I hope so. God reaches out to each one of us

 

How would Jesus respond to knowing that bad things were going to happen to him?

Matthew 26:38 – Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. Was Jesus anxious? Fearful?

 

Jesus experienced overwhelming negative emotion but responded to the most difficult physical, emotional and spiritual experience ever with an overwhelming positive emotional response – his love for humanity.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2” Timothy 1:7

 

Jesus in his humanity was very fearful of what was about to happen. In his deity he responded not in fear, but from the source of power that is available to all believers through the Holy Spirit. In His weakness and death on the cross He demonstrated the greatest power of all – the love of the Father and did the right thing by the Father.

 

As the thunder of COVID19 rumbles through the world, some are cautious not wanting to become sick. Others are fearful of government overreach or economic consequences. Our loving Father says to us,

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:32

 

 

“Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.” Psalm 46:2-3

 

God has not given us a spirit of fear. Recognize that fear comes from living in a broken world, not from God. It is ok to be cautious if you feel you or those you love are in danger. But don’t stay there.

 

But of power. Trust Him to strengthen you.

 

And of love. Love all who are startled by the thunder.

 

And of a sound mind. We, of all people, know the final outcome. Current geopolitical issues are less than what Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:17 as “light and momentary troubles.”

 

Life may be different for a little while or forever. Whatever it looks like after COVID19 will become “normal”. But our God is the same God that led His people to the Promised Land and we can trust that the God who saved our souls is with us through whatever comes. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13