What instruction, what order, is given, again and again, by God, by angels, by Jesus, by prophets and apostles? What do you think–‘be good’? ‘Be holy, for I am holy’? Or, negatively, ‘Don’t sin’? ‘Don’t be immoral’? No. The most frequent command in the Bible is : ‘Don’t be afraid.’ Don’t be afraid. Fear not….Let’s make no mistake about it: until you learn to live without fear you won’t find it easy to follow Jesus. (N.T. Wright, Following Jesus, pg. 66-67)
What would it look like to truly live without fear? Not a kind of false courage or foolhardy arrogance, but a genuine lack of fear. No fear about losing job, marriage, status, relationship, faith, or life. No worries about finances, exams, family issues, or who is going to win the Super Bowl. Instead of a life of worry and anxiety, imagine a life defined by confidence and courage.
Sound impossible? It nearly is. According to Scripture, perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, that the one who fears is not made perfect in love. Punishment stems from sin and death, which is why death is so darn scary and unsettling. If you ask in a worrisome scenario, “what’s the worst that could happen?” the answer ultimately leads to death–either your own, or someone else’s. Death is frightening in all its forms–physical, spiritual, relational, emotional.
When my son was in the ICU last October, there were definite moments of intense fear that I would lose my only son. The emotional weight was enormous, crushing. To be confronted with death so clearly was horrific. As a father, I still have irrational fears that my car will randomly flip on the freeway during my commute, that my wife and son will have to go on without me. As a pastor, I have dozens of fears–that I’m not giving enough time and energy to a student who will fall through the cracks; that I’m giving too much time to ministry and not my family; that volunteers or students or parents or the elder board will hate me; that my own sins and insecurities will be open for public viewing and appraisal, and so on.
When Adam and Eve first sinned, their initial reaction was one of fear–they hid themselves from God. When Christ raises from the dead in the gospel of Mark, the women at the tomb run away “trembling and bewildered.” Fear catches us in the best and worst moments, both in the banishment from the first garden and the resurrection in a new garden. Fear can suck the hope out of anyone. That’s why the Gospel is so critical in every single situation we may encounter. N.T. Wright puts it this way:
…that the message of the gospel, the message that the true God is the God who raises the dead, can and does go that deep; and that wherever you may be, and whenever you may hit that rock-bottom sense of despair, the gospel can you reach you there too. Indeed, that is where it specializes in reaching people. It is when we are weak that we can be strong. (pg. 71)
When we are taken to the end of ourselves, to the point where all else has failed and death seems imminent, it is in these moments that faith offers new life and hope, that we can remember we are deeply loved by a good Father, that perfect love casts out fear, and that the God who raises the dead can handle all fears and worries.
What are you afraid of?