A Right Theology of Fear (And Why You Need It)

I know that I’m not supposed to be. I’ve heard all of the lines about how God wins. I’ve sung the words plenty, “If our God is for us, then who can ever
stop us.” I know that I’m supposed to “fear not” and yet, in these times, I have to wonder how it’s possible to feel no fear without assuming an ostrich
position and ignoring all that is happening in our world.

In addition to tasting the bile of fear in my stomach, I am wrestling with how to reconcile my fear and my faith.

  • What am I supposed to do with my fear?
  • Is fear the “gift” that psychologists tell me it is, or is it evidence that my faith is sick and useless?
  • I’ve been a Christian for nearly twenty years; should I have the fearlessness of Wonder Woman as a result?
  • Is my fear a sin?

Fear makes me suddenly and painfully aware of my total lack of control.

I may not have all of the answers, but I know where to run to find them. God’s Word has plenty to say about fear. In fact, there are well over 400 verses
on the subject. I imagine that is because there is much to fear in our fallen and broken world and because I’m not the only one whose heart’s default
posture is fear. Yes, the Bible says “fear not.” In fact that is the most consistent message about fear in the Bible, but it’s not all God has to say on
the subject. If you’ve got questions about fear, the Bible has answers. Here’s an overview of the theology of fear found in God’s Word.

Fear is not always the absence of faith. Sometimes it’s the underpinnings of it.

If possible, I’d have Philippians 4:6–7 tattooed on the back of my eyeballs.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God. And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Fear makes me suddenly and painfully aware of my total lack of control. It pops the bubble of illusion that I can take care of myself. It forces me to look
for purpose and meaning beyond the trivial. It makes me desperate for hope.

In this way, fear is a gift because it yanks my eyes off of my naval and toward the only One who can do something about all that threatens me. I believe
this is why God asks us not to be anxious. It isn’t because there’s nothing to be anxious about. There is! But only God’s peace can shore us up enough to
face that.

Jesus Offers a Different Kind of Peace

There isn’t a lock that can keep every bad guy out. There isn’t a vaccine against every disease. There isn’t an army big enough to enforce world peace.
Those are the cold hard facts of life this side of Eden, but Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). He offers a different kind of comfort than I can find
in security systems and emergency preparedness plans.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”
(John 14:27).

Aren’t all of our fears really rooted in a fear of death? Isn’t that why cancer scares the hooey out of us? Isn’t it why war is so terrifying? Since death
cannot touch Jesus, we can know that nothing that scares us will take Him down. Peace is the gift Jesus gave His followers upon returning to heaven. It
remains the unique gift of Christians and the exclusive hope we have to offer the world around us.

Because He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and sovereign over all, He can watch the unrolling of history without fear. I get to borrow some of that
fearlessness as His child. I cannot carry the burden of fear. I can say from experience it will crush me. But God does not tell me to slap on a happy face
and act like I live in La La Land. Nope. He gives me very specific instructions for what to do with my fear . . .

What Am I Supposed to Do with My Fear?

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he
cares for you (1 Peter 5:6–7).

What am I supposed to do with my fear and anxiety? I am supposed to hurl it toward the cross. Because in light of the fact that Jesus died in my place and
has secured an eternal place for me with Him, all fears—real or imagined—must shrink in significance.

What does that look like, practically? Let me give you an example . . .

What am I supposed to do with my fear and anxiety? I am supposed to hurl it toward the cross.

For several years, I was awakened in the middle of the night a couple of times a month with panic attacks. I couldn’t breathe. My mind and heart raced. My
chest felt like it was in a vice grip. You should know, I was a believer already. I was serving God in full-time vocational ministry. I read my Bible
often. And yet fear sometimes stalked me.

In those dark moments I didn’t know how to “cast my anxiety on him.” Then I learned the power of God’s Word. It is my offensive weapon when something
terrifying is charging me.

That’s why Ephesians 6:17 says, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

When I started to use the Word as a weapon, the panic attacks stopped. Now when I wake up afraid, I say verses like these out loud.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isa. 41:10).

Slavery to fear is the mark of unbelievers. Adoption breaks the yoke.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba!
Father!” (Rom. 8:15).

When my sons have nightmares, they want their daddy. His strong arms and calm voice provide an oasis when they are in the desert of fear. It is no accident
that in this passage God reminds us that we have been set free from the chains of fear and then reminds us that He is our “Abba! Father!” He is our daddy.
When we are afraid, we can run to His strong arms.

The yoke of fear was broken when He adopted you. That doesn’t mean you will never feel afraid. It does mean you don’t have to be chained to that fear. You
can put one foot in front of the other because you know your heavenly Father is keeping watch over His beloved sheep.

Knowing the difference between eternal and temporal threats changes what I fear.

Psalm 56:11, 118:6, and Hebrews 13:6 all reach the same conclusion . . .

“What can man do to me?”

I know that the answer is plenty. Man can hurt our feelings, ruin our reputation, corrupt our children. Man can harm our physical bodies and destroy our
property. Man can take what we treasure. I know those are all real threats; however, they are temporal. No reputation or possession will make it with us to
eternity. They might last eighty years, a blip compared to forever. When God “stamps eternity onto our eyeballs” we can see clearly that even in a worst-case
scenario, we have hope of a perfect existence free of pain and fear with Jesus. But if “fear not” is one side of the coin when it comes to how the Bible
describes fear, “fear God” is the other.

Knowing the difference between eternal and temporal threats changes what I fear.

Well over 100 times the Bible calls us to “fear God.” Because as much as God is our Comforter and Prince of Peace, He is also just, righteous, jealous, and
holy. The buck stops with Him. Instead of living our lives in fear of man, worrying about what the people around us might do or think, we are called to
fear God and make every choice with His will in mind.

I need a theology of fear because, without it, I will spend the best part of my days and years wringing hands and biting fingernails. I need to remind
myself often of all that God says about fear and to use my fear as a diving board that springs me into the deep waters of God’s truth.

Psalm 23:4 works like a life jacket in scary, choppy waters.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The Psalmist wasn’t fearless because there was nothing to fear. He was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death after all. I think of that valley as the place
where our heart cries, “If I have to stay here one more minute, I’ll die!” It’s a dark and scary place. When we find ourselves there, why shouldn’t we be
afraid? Because of God’s presence. Because His rod is there to protect us, and His staff is there to shepherd us. Because He will not leave us there
forever. Because He has gone to prepare a place for us where all fears will cease. Remembering this is the only cure for my fearful heart.

  • What makes you afraid?
  • Do you have a good theology of fear?

  • How can we show peace to a terrifying and terrified world?

PS: I love my friend Trillia Newbell’s book on the topic, Fear and Faith. I’ll choose three of you to win a free copy!

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If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read “When Fear Is Pressing in on Your Heart.”