I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christ and Our Fears

In this post I would like to talk briefly about a subject that I can confidently say belongs to each and every one of us.  So ubiquitous is this phenomenon that I would argue not one person has ever existed, does now exist, or ever will exist that does not share in this common human experience; and, that is, fear.  Fear is a universal aspect of our humanity.  Not only is fear broad in the scope of its captives, it is also intensely penetrating, often bringing our very souls into incapacitating bondage. 


What is it that we fear? This question alone could force us into considerations that would take more posts than I care to write.  As of the last count, professionals in the psychotherapeutic disciplines have identified some 530 distinct types of phobias![1]  Of these 530 conditions, some are relatively reasonable and common, while others are not.  For instance, one fear that I am sure a number of us feel at times is Pteromerhanophobia, that is, the fear of flying.[2]  So, although it is not a universal fear, it is common, so do not feel alone if you suffer from it.  Psychologists have diagnosed other more peculiar manifestations of fear, such as, Geniophobia,[3] fear of chins.  One of the strangest, or at least most ironic, is the sad case of Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia,[4] the dreadful fear of long words.
Allow me to suggest to you that we could touch, as with a needle, the finest points of what we might call phobiology and never root out the true source of our primal fears.  These 530 phobias are mere manifestations or species, if you will, of a deeper, more basic problem. 


We need a proper diagnosis of our fears.  Moreover, we need a perspective on this issue that transcends the problem itself.  However, if everyone suffers from fear, it would seem almost impossible to discover that perspective on the problem that provides us with an objective and exhaustive accounting of the matter.  Note, I said, almost impossible. 
What if there was a person that experientially understood but did not suffer from our malady?  If there was, that person could be truly objective in his analysis of the problem.  Additionally, what if that person knew everything about the human condition?  If there was such a person, they could provide an exhaustive accounting of all the data as well.  Further, what if this person wrote the information of his analysis in a book?  If that were so, nothing could be more helpful.  I have a great encouragement for all of us fearers today, there is such a Person, his name is Jesus; and, there is such a book, the Bible.  Best of all, the Bible has much to say, regarding our problem of fear.


If we go to this source, then, we discover that between the Old and New Testaments, the Bible mentions the reality of fear some 581 times,[5] which outdoes the vexation of the number of phobias we suffer, which, again, is 530.  And since we are on the topic of frequencies, do you know what the number one most frequent command in all of Scripture is?  It isn’t “Don’t sin!”  It isn’t “Be good!”  The correct answer may surprise you.  The most frequent command in the Bible is…”Do not be afraid”…”Fear not”…”Do not be anxious.”[6] The irony is, of the thousands of commands in the Bible, this one is the very hardest to keep, as our experience cries out in testimony. 


I propose that the biblical data on the subject of fear may be divided into two classes, which are, ordinary fears and ultimate fears.  Ordinary fears are those that haunt us in our daily experiences.  Jesus aptly summarizes this class of fear in Matthew 6:25.  “Do not be anxious,” he commands us.  Regarding what?  “…about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (ESV).  These are the ordinary fears surrounding the basics of life.  Ultimate fears are of another sort.  What we are calling ultimate fear, psychologists call thanatophobia, which is—in our more honest moments—the horrific prospect and dread of our own death.[7] The Bible also speaks into this sort of fear.  The Psalmist expresses this for us, in 55:4, “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me.”


The biblical data dealing with fear, therefore, falls into one of two classes: ordinary fears and ultimate fears.  The Bible talks a lot about the problem of fear, but does it offer the solution?  Yes.  Additionally, I argue that it offers the only real solution for humanity’s greatest problem. 
We may begin to move towards that answer in the following remark of Jesus.  Speaking to a ruler of the synagogue, who was facing the death of his daughter, Jesus said, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36). In this statement, Jesus is setting believing trust in opposition to our fear.  The solution to our fear, therefore, is our trusting in the promises of God.  God’s promises have two classes also, each of which speaks directly to our two classes of fear.  The promises of God’s gracious providence answer our ordinary fears, while God’s promises of redemption in Christ answer our ultimate fears. 
What is the providence of God?  Providence is the beneficent outworking of God’s sovereignty, whereby all events are directed and disposed to bring about those purposes of glory and good for which the universe was made…Providence thus encompasses both natural and personal events, setting them alike within the purposes of God.[8]  Jesus, while teaching his disciples on what grounds they could avoid fear and anxiety, appeals to the reality of trusting in God’s fatherly providence for them, saying, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6—7).  The solution to our ordinary fears, those which haunt us in our everyday experience, therefore, is simply trusting God’s fatherly care for us, through his providential sovereignty. 
Likewise, a heart fully set on believing and trusting in the promise of God’s redemption set forth in his Son, Jesus Christ, is the final answer to our ultimate fears.  Hebrews 2:14—15 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”  Death is our first and final fear and enemy, and in Christ’s cross-work and resurrection is doomed to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 21:4).  Those who trust and belong to Christ can rest on the promise that he is sovereign over their death (Revelation 1:18).  For those who will trust Christ, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7), and it is the perfect love of God in Christ that casts out our ultimate fears (1 John 4:18).

[1] Fredd Culbertson, Retrieved from http://phobialist.com/phobia_faqs.html.  Accessed on December 4, 2010.

[2] Fredd Culbertson, Retrieved from http://phobialist.com/. Accessed on December 4, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.
[5] In the OT, the verb yarā and the related nouns mora’, yir’ah, chata, and paced occur some 435 times.  In the NT, phobeō, the verb form, e.g., “to fear; not to fear” is found 93 times; phobos, the noun form (47x); and the total occurrences of the root phob in the NT is 146 times.  See E. Ray Clendenen, “Fear,” pp. 562—63 in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.  Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.  2003), 562. 

[6] N. T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical reflections on discipleship.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.  1994), 65—66. 

[7] Author unknown.  Retrieved from http://www.simplephobiasguide.com/fear-of-death-phobia.php.  Accessed on December 4, 2010.

[8] N. M. de S. Cameron, “Providence,” pp. 541—42 in New Dictionary of Theology.  Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright editors (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.  1988), 541.


  1. Cameron's definition of Providence is one of the best I have seen. Thanks for pointing it out to us.

    Your comments about phobias are excellent. I think it was Churchhill who said, "we have nothing to fear but fear itself." Regardless of who said it, I fear he was wrong. As you point out, we ought to fear some things, especially God. The fear of death is really the fear of God. It is the fear that we really will answer to God, and that our answers won't satisfy Him.


  2. Thanks, Bishop. I appreciate your connection between the fear of death and God. Death is the result of our primal sin in Adam. Ironically, it was his failure to fear the death that disobedience threatened, and subsequently brought sin and death into the cosmos. So, every death, whether sinner or saint, is evidence that God keeps his Word, for better or worse. Silly platitudes like "we have nothing to fear..." make for great propaganda but awful philosophy, and even worse theology, as you so well said.

    Blessings to you, brother. Thanks for stopping by!