(Part I) Who Are You That You Fear: Introduction and the Idolatry of Fear

“You shall not fear what they fear, nor be in terror of what terrifies them. YHWH Himself shall be your terror and your fear; then He will become a refuge, but to the houses of Israel a stumbling stone and a rock of oppression.”

“Do not fear their reproaches, nor be in terror of their slander, for they will all wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up, but My salvation is forever and My righteousness for all peoples.”

“I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mortal man, the sons of man who are like grass, that you forget YHWH, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens?”

Fear is not right in the life of a Christian. People have said to me, “You’re only human; of course you’re going to be afraid. Those “fear not” verses are just meant to be a comfort and an encouragement; not a command.” I read in a book once, on that passage where Jesus said not to fear those who can kill the body, but after that can do no more, but to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna, something to the effect of, “If somebody walks into your bedroom in the middle of the night with a knife and says ‘I’m going to kill you,’ are you going to be afraid? Of course you are. He’s going to kill your body. You’re going to be terrified. Jesus is not saying that you should not be. That’s ridiculous! This is a form of hyperbole. He’s saying, ‘Is someone going to kill your body? Is that a terrifying thing? Think how much more terrifying hell is!’”

There are lots of things wrong with that. Among them, hell is really not the point. That God can destroy both body and soul in hell testifies to His greatness, but Jesus is not telling this to unbelievers; He is telling this to His own disciples to give them courage in the day when they will be tested. To paraphrase, He is saying, “Do not be afraid of them, they can do nothing. God is the one that all men should fear.” What I wish to discuss here, however, is this: just because something is impossible in our fallen human nature does not mean that God has not commanded it. Just because we cannot attain to something apart from the help of God’s Spirit does not mean that He has not destined us to it. Humans were never made only for that which they could achieve, for purely human ends or glory. Even Adam and Eve were made for that which they, in themselves, could never be, but to which God would raise them; they were made to eat of the tree of life. We were made to be saints; we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit Himself, the Spirit by which we cry “Abba! Father!” the Spirit of glory, the Spirit not of fear but of the power and mind of God.

It is true that some forms of fear are not sinful. There is nothing sinful about the rush of adrenaline, the racing of the heart, the heightened awareness and strength, which we experience when we perceive ourselves or someone we care about to be in danger. At times, this may even flow over into the emotions without being sin. However, I wish to stress that, though humanly impossible, the complete conquest of fear is possible with God. Many have accepted sufferings and death with no fear at all of any sort, but with great joy and peace. God often takes away all signs of fear, protecting His beloved ones in all their senses with the joy and peace of His Holy Spirit. However, I do wish to note that He does not always do this in the same way; sometimes, He gives a different gift and a different glory, joy and peace in the midst of the suffering of fear; always, He desires that His children should look to Him and not be afraid.

I think the main sense of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and after that can do no more; rather, fear Him who, after He has killed, can cast both body and soul into hell,” is much the same as this verse from Isaiah: “Who are you that you fear mortal man, the sons of man who are like grass, that you forget YHWH, your Maker?” (By the way, can you believe I used to think, “Umm, sure, after they kill you they can do no more, but they can torture you first!”) In other words, as much as some people think that fear is only a minor sin, it is an insult of great proportions to God. In order to fear, one must take one’s eyes off of God and put them on oneself and that which one fears. This is a form of idolatry. The verse from Isaiah says it perfectly: “Who are you that you fear?” In other words, what are you that you dare to fear? What are you that you dare to fix your gaze on anyone but your Savior? There is another passage in Isaiah (I think, there might also be some in Jeremiah) where YHWH, the I AM WHO AM, challenges the false gods, the illusions of the people, or is it that He calls on the people to challenge them, saying, “Do good or evil, that we may fear you!” In order to fear, we must first take our eyes off God, our Almighty One, our Savior and strong Deliverer, the Rock of our Salvation. As long as we are worshiping God – which is what our entire lives are supposed to be: “In view of God’s mercies, I urge you, brethren, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, this is your reasonable act of worship,” – we cannot look at anything else long enough to fear it. Fear is first giving to something other than God the attention that belongs to God, and then attributing to it the power and control, the significance, that belongs to God – which is idolatry. What is more unholy than disbelieving God, than making His promises out to be lies? “I, even I, am He who comforts you.” “Do not fear, you worm Jacob, for I will uphold you.”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.” God loves us with all the almighty power by which He made the worlds and raised Jesus from the dead. He loves us with His entire being and nothing shall come to pass except that He allows it: is it then possible to fear? “Fear has to do with punishment,” but for us who believe, there is no condemnation or punishment. God’s discipline has nothing to do with punishment; nothing at all to do with punishment. He disciplines us for our holiness; for our good; for our salvation; that we may know more fully His love and His life. This is obvious, because both in Hebrews 12 and in 1st Peter – “but it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God” – discipline is spoken of in the context of persecution which, far from merely not being a punishment, is actually a reward, a glory, and an honor!

When we know God’s love, there is no place for fear. His love for us is everywhere and in everything. He Himself, the God who is Love, is everywhere, for there is no distinction between His love and Himself. When we love Him because He first loved us, what shall we fear? Absolutely everything presents an opportunity for us to know Him better. Absolutely everything presents an opportunity for us to be conformed to the likeness of the Son. Even more, He is Real. We may be nothing and we do not matter, except because He loves us, but He IS Goodness. There is no fear in love: what is there for love to fear? Love has conquered all; “Love is as strong as death. Its flame is the very flame of YHWH. Many waters cannot quench love.” The Love of God is reality and the complete opposite of fear (not, of course, of the fear of the Lord, for that is consistent with love and is not the fear of which we are speaking, but the fear that has to do with punishment – yes, the fear that has to do with hell – has no place in love).

When we are worshiping God, what place is there for fear at all?

Fear is unbelief, is distrusting the Faithful and True One, giving the trust that belongs to Him to inherently untrustworthy creatures or even less. Faith is the sight of the soul upon God; in other words, faith is salvation on earth, salvation as it is received on earth. Faith is looking to God; fear is looking away from God.


Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale

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