Faith In the Midst of Fear

A recent study from Chapman University compiled the 10 Ten List of things Americans fear. The categories of things people fear range from government corruption to suffering caused by climate change and not having enough money to meet basic needs. Right in the middle of the list is the fear of “people I love getting sick” or “dying.” The fear of death and dying is now—and probably forever—the most common fear people share.

Our Bible Study this morning focused on Fear, and the role it plays in the life of faith.

In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses teaches his people God’s Covenant with them, “The LORD our God is one. Love the LORD your God with all you are.” Moses reminds them of the promises, the freedom, the resources that God has already bestowed upon them, and all God asks is return is for love and faithfulness. If they remain grateful for all God has given, and remain in loving, faithful relationship with God all will be well forever. Then, in verse 13, Moses’ teaching seems to take a turn, “Fear the LORD your God, and serve him only.”

Wait…what? How can a teaching about love, freedom and covenant end with a teaching of fear? Love is about freedom and covenant, trust and forgiveness. Fear is about power and control. These two things rarely go together in a healthy way. Many of us have a hard time reconciling the God Jesus proclaims—God of trust, love, life, light, justice and mercy—with the God taught in the Hebrew Bible…a God who seems obsessed with power and control, ready to violently smite all evil doers and oath breakers.

The word used for “fear” in Deuteronomy 6:13 is the Hebrew word “yara.” While “yara” can be translated as “fear,” the meaning of that word changes according to its scriptural context, like most Hebrew words. In the context of love and covenant, what’s another way we might translate “yara” or understand “fear” in our relationship with God? We have a word in English that works a lot better: REVERENCE.

“REVERE the LORD your God, and serve him only.”

Proper reverence for God means understanding that God has ultimate power and control over everything in the universe. God has already decided that the end of every story will be reconciliation, that all will become ONE as “the LORD our God is one.” If God is ultimately in charge of everything…and God has power over everything in the universe…including death itself…what do we have to be afraid of?

It’s only if we allow proper understanding of the Hebrew Bible to inform our faith…to understand that not only is God not to be “feared,” but proper Reverence for God decreases our fear of everything…only when we have learned those lessons well are we ready to hear the Good News of the New Testament. It’s in the New Testament that angels tell all they encounter, “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” The angelic workers outside Jesus’ empty tomb tell the women, “Do not be afraid, for Jesus is risen.” With proper reverence for God…we need not fear evil…or death…or anything else. All things are made possible with God.

Fear is a natural part of being human, there is nothing wrong with being afraid. But fear is also to be learned from. In a world that causes much anxiety and gives us much to fear…as one existential crisis after another comes our way…take time to reflect on your fear. What is your response to fear? What effect is fear having on your life? How can you build up your trust and reverence in God…and how might that shrink the fear in your life?

When our reverence for God’s power and authority outweighs our fear of death and evil…when we are wise enough to “not be afraid,” that is when we are ready to hear God’s Good News of eternal life and infinite possibility. Nothing is impossible with our God…and that’s nothing to fear.

Brian Gruhn