No Longer Afraid
By Alan Vink
A biblical response to the fear many Christians are experiencing in a Covid world.
The premise of this paper is that fear is a normal, natural and God given human response to uncertainty and danger whether or not that danger is perceived or real. For some Christians during these Covid times it is more than a passing emotion. It seems to settle in and make itself at home.
What Is Fear?
A Medical Definition1
Fear is a natural, powerful, and primitive human emotion. It involves a universal biochemical response as well as a high individual emotional response. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger or the threat of harm, whether that danger is physical or psychological. It usually has one of three reactions, fight, flight or freeze.
Sometimes fear stems from real threats, but it can also originate from imagined dangers. Fear can also be a symptom of some mental health conditions including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Fear is composed of two primary reactions to some type of perceived threat: biochemical and emotional.
A Biblical Definition2
φόβος (phobos), terror, fear, alarm, fright, reverence, respect, awe.
φοβέομαι (phobeomai), to be afraid, fear, have reverence, respect for.
φοβερός (phoberos), fearful, terrible, frightful.
The NT notes various causes of fear: the appearance of angels (Matt. 28:4; Lk. 1:12; 2:9), the catastrophes in the end times (21:26), death (Heb. 2:15), rulers (Rom. 13:3), and the Jews (Jn. 7:13; 20:19). Fear in the sense of anxiety3 is denoted by the expression phobos kai tromos, fear and trembling, which occurs already in the LXX (e.g., Exod. 15:16; cf. 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Phil. 2:12).
The fear that overtakes people when they encounter God or his messengers may be seen in the accounts of the miracles of Jesus and the apostles and also in the appearances of Christ and the angels. But here, as in the OT, we repeatedly find the command, "Do not be afraid!" It occurs in the accounts of Jairus's daughter (Mk. 5:36; Lk. 8:50), Peter's catch of fish (5:10), the appearance of the angels to Zechariah and Mary (1:13, 30), Paul's visions (Acts 18:9; 27:24), John's vision on Patmos (Rev. 1:17), and the prophecy fulfilled on the first Palm Sunday (Jn. 12:15; cf. Isa. 41:10, 13; Zech 9:9 - 10). It occurs in the nativity story (Lk. 2:10), Jesus' walking on the water (Matt. 14:27; Mk. 6:50), the transfiguration (Matt. 17:7), and the angel's and Jesus' words at the empty tomb (28:5, 10).
As I see it then, there are three kinds of fear Christians may experience.
- Natural Fear. This is good fear if you like. It is the fear we feel when imminent danger is near us or surrounding us. It is also common when you experience something outside of your experience. Uncertainty is a common cause for experiencing natural God given fear. That is what many people are currently experiencing in this pandemic.
I say it is natural in that this is an emotion that God has given us. Therefore, it is good. It’s the fear we feel when we hear an unusual noise in the dark, or the emotion we feel when we are caught up in a rip at the beach. This fear is essential to keep us alive. It kicks in a solid dose of adrenalin and helps us act and react in ways that save our lives. It is essential. It is a gift from God.
As noted above we see reference to this kind of fear many times in the bible. We see it at the announcement of the birth of Jesus for example. Zacharias felt it, so did Mary as did the Shepherds. The disciples also felt it on many occasions throughout the ministry of Jesus especially when they were confronted with unexpected supernatural events.
- Chronic Fear. This is altogether different to 1 above. This is a pervasive feeling of fear, anxiety, dread and even horror. It’s dark in nature and it is emotionally and spiritually debilitating. It’s source may have started as a result of uncertain or even a frightening experience but it has now become an emotional illness. For example, some adults are scared of flying, or deep water, or the dark. Worse still others feel a constant and foreboding sense of dread. Related to this are phobia’s. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. The psychological and mental health literature on chronic fear often talk about anxiety disorders somewhat interchangeably. Though fear and anxiety are different from a medical standpoint, for the purposes of this paper however I will treat them similarly3.
- The Fear of the Lord. According to Proverbs 1:7, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This type of fear does not necessarily mean to be afraid of something. Rather, it is a reverential awe of God, a reverence for His power and glory. However, it is also a proper respect for His wrath and anger. In other words, the fear of the Lord is a total acknowledgement of all that God is, which comes through knowing Him and His attributes.
Fear of the Lord brings with it many blessings and benefits. It is the beginning of wisdom and leads to good understanding (Psalm 111:10). Only fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7). Furthermore, fear of the Lord leads to life, rest, peace, and contentment (Proverbs 19:23). It is the fountain and life (Proverbs 14:27) and provides a security and a place of safety for us (Proverbs 14:26).
Having defined fear and categorised the three kinds of fear, how then should we as Christians live in the midst of a fearful culture coupled with any of our own pre-existing fears and anxieties.
No Longer Afraid
In this section I want to share a few thoughts that may help a christian who is struggling with unhealthy or chronic fear. These are summary thoughts only. I would encourage you to do some further study.
The Bible is our most powerful weapon. There are so many wonderful verses and truths in scripture that can help us neutralise fear. Here is a sample.
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 14:26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And His children will have a place of refuge.
Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Luke 12:32 Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
The Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will always be with us. He is our comforter, our shield and ever-present help in times of trouble. Invite the Holy Spirit to minister directly into your fear. Do this daily for at least seven days.
Pray and Confession. It can be hugely helpful to confess (out loud) your fear especially a fear that persists. As you pray, confess to God that this fear is troubling you and ask Him to help you understand it. Questions like, where is this coming from and why I am feeling this fear?
Music and Singing. Never underestimate the power of good Christian music. Worship and singing has the ability to lift your spirit and minister to your soul. Go on crank up your sound system and lit it rip.
Talk to a friend. You’ve heard it said that a problem shared is a problem halved. Talking to the right person helps. This is where we lean into the one another’s of scripture and share our worries, burdens and fears. It’s a powerful defence against debilitating fear.
Seek professional help. There are times and circumstances where some professional counselling maybe necessary. I am a strong advocate for that. Though talking to your pastor can be important very few pastors are also trained counsellors. A counsellor has been trained and has experience with helping people resolve issues of the past and process current emotions that are disturbing your inner peace.
May our loving heavenly Father through the power of the Holy Spirit help you and bless you and give you the gift of having to longer live with chronic fear.
2 New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
3 Worry, anxiety and fear although different words in the original languages of the Bible are none-the-less very closely connected in everyday experience and the modern-day therapeutic community.