THE FEARS OF THE FAITHFUL
By Pastor Glenn Pease
It was on Oct. 30, 1938 at 8 P. M. when about 6 million people across the United States were listening to the radio. Orson Wells on The Mercury Theatre Of The Air presented the War Of The Worlds. Dance music was suddenly interrupted with a flash news story. "A series of gas explosions has just been noted on the planet Mars," said the announcer. He went on to report that a meteor had landed near Princeton, New Jersey, killing 1500 persons. In a few minutes the announcer came back to correct the report. It was not a meteor but a metal cylinder from which poured Martian creatures with death rays to attack the earth.
In spite of the fact that two announcements were made that it was only a fictitious story, many people were so gripped by fear that they did not hear these announcements. Twenty families on a single block in Newark, New Jersey rushed from their homes to escape what they though was a gas raid. Their faces were covered with towels and handkerchiefs. In Mount Vernon, New York an invalid was so frightened by the invasion that he left his wheel chair and drove away in his car. Thousands were on the phone saying farewell to loved ones. Psychologists have used this event as a classic case history of the power of fear.
It is also a classic study of how poorly people pay attention. Those who listened did not get disturbed, but those who did not listen went into a panic stage. It was all unnecessary if people would have just listened. It is important to take action when danger is present, and fear is good as a motivation. We need to fear danger, but it is tragic to fear it when it is not real. Joyce Landorf in The Fragrance of Beauty says that fear is one of the most destructive forces in the life of a woman, and it robs her of her beauty. She quotes,
Where worry is a mouse,
A small scampering thing with sharp tiny feet,
That scurries over our souls-
Fear is a roaring lion,
With huge paws, extended claws and teeth
That slash us into strips.
In other words, fear is an emotion to fear. It is like the Devil himself, and it is a roaring lion going about seeking whom it may devour. This is not to say with Roosevelt, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." The world is full of things that we need to fear. There are dangers everywhere just as there was in the day of David when he cried out in Ps. 55:4-5, "My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death assailed. Fear and trembling have beset me, horror has overwhelmed me." Unfortunately nobody had yet come up with the comforting statement that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. So poor David had to have fear, and as you read the lives of great people of God all through history you discover they had plenty of fears. It is folly to say to anyone that there is no need to fear, for fear is real and legitimate in many circumstances. But it is also true that it is often not necessary and often even folly to fear.
An ancient legend of the Orient tells of a man who met the Cholera and said to the plague, "Where are you going?" It responded, "I am going to Bagdad to kill 20,000." Some time later he met the plague again and cried out, "You vagabond! You killed 90,000." "No, no," said the Cholera, "I killed 20,000, fear killed all the rest." Trouble has slain its thousands, but fear has slain its tens of thousands. Earnest M. Ligon in The Psychology Of Christian Personality says, "...fear is the most disintegrating of all the enemies of personality. Worry, anxiety, terror, inferiority complexes, pessimism, greed, and the like are all varieties of this one great evil." He says fear is involved in every complex, and it is the basic cause of all repressions.
Fear can produce the very thing that is feared. If you fear you will get sick, that can lead to getting sick. If you fear you will fail the test that fear can make you fail it. The fear of failure is the biggest cause for failure. It is an inside partner with the external forces that seek your defeat. The evil that you fear gets an advantage over you when you are full of fear. It has won half the battle by capturing your heart and mind. That is why in sports the opponent does all he can to make you fear losing, for if he can get you full of fear he has a partner inside you that is helping him win.
From the cradle to the grave man is plagued with fear. Babies are born with two fears. They have a fear of loud noises and a fear of falling. Drop a tray of bottles in a hospital nursery and all of the babies will burst into bitter crying. All other fears, other than these two, are taught. They are not natural. A fear of animals is not natural. It has to be learned. Tests have shown that a baby will pet a tiger and try to chew a rabbit's ear. But as a child grows it learns a multitude of fears. Some are real, but many are false. There are hardly enough words to list all of the things that people learn to fear. The list of phobias is very long, and some people are even afraid of being afraid. Fear can be the greatest hindrance to a fruitful life. That is why it is strange when Peter says in verse 17 that we are to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear. This sounds like a contradiction of all I have said. Fear is one of our greatest enemies and yet we are told to fear. This apparent contradiction runs all through the Bible.
The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and that God does not give us a spirit of fear. Dozens of times we are told not to fear. On the other hand, we are told to fear the Lord. In at least 24 verses we are commanded to fear God, and many verses describe the blessings of fearing God. We want to look at these two sides of fear in order to better understand the Bible and our emotional life. First of all lets look at-
I. THE EVILS OF FEAR.
The fear that the Bible disapproves of might better be called anxiety. When Jesus said that we are to take no thought for the morrow, it is better understood if we say do not be anxious about the future. To fear the future is foolish said Jesus. Worry won't help you any more than it will cause you to grow an inch. The unknown is the great cause for fear, but this is the very fear that we do not need to have, for this is the fear that leads to all kinds of abnormal behavior. True fear is emotional agitation because of specific danger. Anxiety is emotional agitation with no recognizable cause. It is one thing to be afraid if you are standing on the edge of a cliff, but it is another to be anxious about falling off a cliff when you are at home in your living room. The first has a definite cause, but the second is an emotion that is totally subjective. The first is real, but the second is imaginary, and it is this last kind of fear that is a curse. It is this kind of fear that creates a man like the one who hid three hundred thousand dollars in his house and starved to death.
Normal fears of germs cause us to wash our hands before we eat, but it is this abnormal anxiety that causes people to wash a hundred times a day until their hands are so chapped they have to go to a doctor. It is this kind of fear that fills our hospital beds with neurotic patients. Christian people are not exempt from such fears. It is this kind of fear that the Bible rejects, for it is all based on ignorance, lack of faith, an inadequate conception of God. Luther was one who lived in fear until he discovered the Bible remedy for fear, which is faith. He was following a procession of the mass one day in the town of Eisleben when suddenly he was overcome by the thought that the wine that was carried was really Jesus Christ, and he later wrote of this experience and said, "A cold sweat covered my body, and I believed myself dying of terror." This is an example of the false fear of God based on ignorance. Only when Luther came to know God as his Father through Jesus Christ could he escape his fear that nearly drove him mad.
When ever a Christian does not fully trust in God as his heavenly Father he is in danger of suffering from guilt feelings. These can be repressed and come out in all sorts of foolish fears. For example, there was a young woman with a strange phobia from age 7 to 20 this girl had a fear of running water. She couldn't stand to hear her bath water run, and it was only after a violent struggle and much screaming that her mother succeeded in getting her clean. At school the drinking fountain was just outside of her room. If children made too much noise drinking she would be frightened, and once she even fainted. Why would this be? She knew there was no danger, but she couldn't help herself. There was no reason for it, and no one could explain it. She needed professional help to discover the reason.
When she was 7 her mother an aunt were with her on a picnic. It was getting late and the mother had to go. She begged her mother to stay and the mother allowed her to stay if she would remain close by her aunt. She soon broke that promise and ran off alone. When the aunt found her she was lying by a small stream wedged among some rocks. She was screaming and crying in terror for the waterfall was pouring down over her head. She was rescued but was in great distress about what her mother would do because of her disobedience. The aunt promised not to tell, and the next day she left for a distant city. The girl was left with no one to confide in, and so she repressed her sense of guilt, and it came out in the form of fear of running water. She could have been spared all of this if she had confessed her disobedience and taken her punishment.
This same thing happens in the lives of Christians who do not confess their guilt but try to repress it. They can lose all of the joy of their salvation, and it can lead them to have many fears. Perfect love cast out fear, but imperfect love that does not confess opens the door to a host of fears. The Christian should never be in a state of guilt, for they should always confess their sins to God and claim His promise to forgive and cleanse. Next lets look at-
II. THE VALUES OF FEAR.
In a world filled with fears the Christian has a weapon to destroy them. All men long for such a weapon.
The thing that numbs the heart is this,
That men cannot devise
Some scheme of life to banish fear
That lurks in most men's eyes.
Men cannot devise such a scheme, but God has revealed one to us. We fight fire with fire, and we fight false fear with true fear. Just as humility is the way to exalted life, so the fear of God is the way to security and freedom from fear. The biblical concept of positive fear is very close to faith, and it goes together with love. Duet. 10:12 fear, love and obedience are the three things God requires of people. It is this superior fear that drives out false fears. It was the fear of God that gave the martyrs the courage to face death without fear. This is the fear that is the other side of coin of faith. Dr. William S. Sadler said, "The only known cure for fear is faith."
Positive fear is basic to our health and security. Healthy fears make us more efficient, and they give us more energy just when we need it most. Fear is the glue that holds society together. How would you like to have a druggist who had no fear of giving you the wrong medicine? What if he was so completely carefree that he had no fear of what the authorities could do if he poisoned people? Who wants a surgeon with no fear? We want all professionals to be fearful of failure so that they do there very best to succeed. Someone said, "Fearlessness is wedded to recklessness." We want professionals not to be reckless, but to fear making mistakes so that they are cautious and effective.
John Southernland Bonnell is an outstanding Christian leader in the realm of psychology. He tells of an experience in Britain during World War II. The Germans had flown over and dropped land mines on parachutes. In the morning one of them was discovered hanging from a steel girder swaying in the breeze. A demolition squad was called and a young officer ordered a 30-foot ladder to be put up and everyone to be cleared from the area. He climbed up and examined the cylinder closely to see if it had an inner fuse that would explode a few seconds after the outer one was removed. He carefully took a wretch and removed the fuse and then lowered the mine. One of the men came up and said, "How do you do that without being afraid?" He said, "You are wrong. Every time I am called to do this I am afraid, but I master my fear, for if I tremble while I remove the fuse that moment could be my last." He told of how his mother taught him the 23rd Psalm about fearing no evil as he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He said, "I believe God is with me and nothing else matters."
Bonnell said, "Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it." The brave man is not a man without fear, but one who has his fear under control. The boys who play chicken on the highway do not exhibit bravery, but rather folly. To be free from all fear is to be abnormal as those who are afraid of everything, and it is even more dangerous. The proper use of the emotion of fear is to be controlled by the committed mind, which is the mind of Christ. His mind is to guide our mind to an honest evaluation of our fears. Where ignorance thrives fear reigns, but where knowledge increases fears depart. When we have a full understanding of God's Fatherhood we can be set free from our foolish and false fears. Some poet has written-
My Father God! That gracious sound
Dispels my guilty fear;
Not all the harmony of heaven
Could so delight my ear.
The child of the king can sit on his father's knee even when all the nobility of the land are excluded from his court. We must take the fatherhood of God seriously if we are to be free from false and foolish fears. But again, we see balance in Scripture. We must see God also as an impartial judge and one who must carry out discipline in guiding his children. The fear of the Lord is based on his righteousness and justice. He judges his own children according to their works, and the word here refers to a continuous judging and not a judgment at the end of history. Then non-Christian is storing up the wrath of God for the end, but Christians receive discipline all through life in order to teach them.
The fear of the Lord is a respect and reverence that makes the Christian want to avoid offending God by disobedience. A person who does not fear God can sin with boldness, but the more committed a person is to God the more he trembles at the thought of disobedience. This is especially so when he considers the price God paid for his redemption. The knowledge of the great value of our redemption compels us to be cautious. It is just like our attitude is different when we are carrying a fruit jar from when we carry an expensive piece of china. We are far more cautious with the china, and so we need to be far more cautious when we realize we carry the reputation of God, which is judged by our character and conduct.
The fear of the Lord is to compel us to search the Word, which shall endure forever. We cannot have an adequate adult Christian life on a child's understanding. A little boy struggled through the story of the Three Little Pigs, then he said, "Dad, this is the greatest book ever written." If that is still his attitude as an adult, it is pathetic. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, for it drives us to search His Word, to flee from sin, and to overcome all other fears by faith in Him. We need to commit our mental, moral and emotional life to God through Christ and live in reverent fear.
One of the things that we should fear is the lack of honest expression of our feelings to those we love. Cecil Osborne, an outstanding Christian counselor had a friend who told him this experience: He and his wife had been married for 16 years and every year they had driven some 800 miles to spend the holidays with her parents. He had no desire to drive 1600 miles on possible icy roads, but it seemed to mean so much to her that he endure it year after year. Finally on the way home for the 16th time he said, "Honey, I know how much this visit to your parents means to you, but to be honest I am getting to resent it a little. I wonder if we could settle for just every other year?"
She responded, "You mean you've been doing this all these years for me? Good grief, I've hated it! But you seemed to derive so much enjoyment that I went along with it. I thought you got a real kick out of it." He confessed that he faked it, and they both sat in silence for miles considering how much easier life would be if they were just honest about how they really felt. They feared to hurt each other with the truth, but they should have feared hurting each other with the lie of their faked enjoyment. The point is that some sort of fear is good, but we need to use fear in the right way. The bottom line is we should fear to do anything that does not allow us to be who we really are. The ones we love may wish we were not exactly the way we are, but they can better deal with reality than with the unknown.
The reverent fear that Peter deals with is the fear of respecting God too much to fake it. It is being fully honest before God in expressing how we really feel. It may be that we ought not to feel as we do, but being honest about it helps us deal with it and if it is wrong, it makes it possible for God to forgive it, for we are confessing it as we share it. When we fear to be dishonest with God we will develop an intimacy with Him that will make prayer more meaningful, and it will make us have a better self image, for we will be fully who we really are before God. This is healthy fear, and the kind of fear that make us faithful to our Lord.