One of the regular readers of one of my other blogs (Voices of Glass) asked me if I would give my take on the subject of Fear and whilst I do not profess to have all the answers I am quite happy to share my understanding and indeed my approach to it. But before doing so I have to make a couple of things clear…
Firstly I say again that I am not an expert in this field nor am I a mental health practitioner. I am if anything just a simple soul trying to work his way through life as best he can and to cope with and manage his own mental health issues as best he can.
Secondly (and perhaps more importantly) as a Christian my approach to most things has therefore got to contain and hopefully abide by the basic Christian teachings and approaches that I hold as being true. I have little to no doubt that in the subject of Fear this will be very evident. It is for this reason that I decided that my response to the original request to discuss Fear should be given here as opposed to the other blog.
So if you are not a Christian I would hope that you would forgive my approaching the subject from this angle and still take time to read this posting as some of it may still be relevant and hopefully helpful to you.
Perhaps the best way of our approaching this whole subject of fear would be for us to first define what fear is..
Dictionary.com defines fear as…
“a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”
Now in terms of definitions it is, I think, a fairly accurate and perfectly acceptable definition in respect of how the world sees fear. Some people, my self included perhaps, would want to see a reference to the biochemical reaction that is also part of fear and so we could if we wanted to add that and come up with the following definition…
“a distressing emotion and/or biochemical reaction aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”
So having come to a more acceptable definition therefore let’s take a look at it and see how a Christian’s approach could and I believe should be different to a non-Christian’s approach to fear.
Right at the very beginning of that definition we find the word “distressing” – “a distressing emotion and/or biochemical reaction aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.” and I would have to ask the question is all fear distressing? Indeed should all fear be distressing?
When I ask this, I am not referring to the fact that some people find some fear to be exciting and so seek it out but more about the fact that there are without doubt two types of fear. Fear that benefits us and fear that does not benefit us.
You see fear forms a very real and very important part of our life. The right kind of fear “warns us” of danger and it creates within us a mechanism that automatically deters us from progressing into harm’s way. The wrong kind of fear “distresses us” and can be stifling and debilitating and extremely harmful.
As parents isn’t part of our parenting to teach our children what it safe and what is unsafe? Hopefully we afford them confidence with respect to the safe and caution with respect to the unsafe. Doing so through love, discipline, and compassion and without causing them harm or distress. After all, what loving parent would want to harm or cause distress to their child and indeed what sane, rational person would want harm or distress for his or herself where it is not needed?
So having a good, realistic, and well-informed understanding of what is and what isn’t safe – what does pose a threat or a danger to us and what doesn’t is indeed essential. BUT it is only part of it all as we can clearly see that having a well-balanced understanding and thus not taking on board any harm or distress where it does not belong is equally as important.
A Biblical Understanding of Fear, Distress and the difference:
And the bible is very clear on this. Those who know me well will know that I am very fond of the Psalms, and David (the writer of the Psalms) has provided us with excellent examples of both good and bad fear.
Consider these words…
“The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous.” [ Psalm 19:9 NIV]
and these words…
“Of David. The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” [Psalm 27:1 NIV]
Both of those passages are written by David. In the first one he talks of “The fear of the LORD” in the second he is saying that his heart “will not fear”. Is this a contradiction? No not at all it is instead a clear example of healthy and unhealthy fear.
As Christians, having given our life to Christ and having accepted Him as our “Lord” and our “Saviour” we have (and I sincerely hope I speak for all Christians here) recognized His place in God and as part of God, His sovereign power to judge AND to save. In other words, we have recognized His “sovereign power” – His place in God and as part of God, and His right and position to Judge – His “Lordship”, AND his right and position to save – His place as “Saviour”.
I believe that the “fear of the Lord” that David speaks of in Psalm 19:9 is not being afraid of Christ but rather being afraid of not having Christ or of being not counted with Christ. Furthermore I believe this is a healthy fear.
So in Psalm 27:1 David rightfully says, having recognized the fact that Christ is his Lord and Saviour (or as David puts it “The LORD is my light and my salvation“) he rightfully asks – “whom (or who else) shall I fear?” or, in respect of what we are talking about today, “why should I therefore have any unhealthy fear?”
And he reinforces this belief and statement with the words, “The LORD is the stronghold (the fortress, the protection) of my life – of whom (who else) shall I be afraid?”
And let us make no mistake here: Not only is this an excellent example of David’s faith – David who is referred to by God as being, “A man after my own [God’s own] heart” (see Acts 13:22 NIV) but it is an excellent example of what our faith should be like.
Likewise let us not make the mistake of suggesting or inferring from this that we should therefore as Christians go through life without caution. That is not the message here and certainly NOT the message of the Bible. In both of the examples given above David goes on to recognize the threats that are there.
In Psalm 19 having recognized the saving grace of the Lord and that it is the Lord from who he gets strength he goes on to recognize the threats that come from within him – from his sinful nature…
“9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. 11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.”
And in Psalm 27, having recognized the sovereign power of Christ he goes on to acknowledge the threat from without – that Christ protects him from…
” 2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”
And I think it is here that we truly catch sight of the wisdom that we are to exercise in respect of “fear” and certainly of “threat” and “danger” and here that we can return to that key point of “distress” that I mentioned earlier.
Putting Fear and Distress in their rightful place:
For if there is anything in life that should “distress” us greatly it is, I would suggest, the possibility of living life and facing an eternity without Christ and thus without God. Anything else when placed next to that pales by comparison and is far, far less important or powerful and thus any distress felt should also pale by comparison.
And I make that statement not in any form of judgement but in love. I am as human, as imperfect, and as sinful by nature at the next person and equally I am as prone to fear and indeed distress as the next person. I also recognize that the same David who wrote those words attesting to the confidence to be found in the Lord, wrote these words from Psalm 55…
“…My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger.”
Almost all of that particular Psalm speaks about the threat and danger he faces and the distress he is feeling. Because like you and like me David – this “man after God’s own heart” – is also as human as you and I.
And here’s the deal, that psalm that speaks so clearly of “threat” and “danger” and “distress” is actually a prayer and begins with the words, “1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me.” and David ends it with the firm resolve, “But as for me, I trust in you.”
In going straight to God with his fears and distress David is placing them in the right place. In God’s hands and by doing so he reduces and removes that fear and distress and gains the right peace and the right confidence – trusting in God.
I hope that we do so to and that by going straight to God and by giving our fears and distress to Him in prayer and by recognizing His sovereign power those words may be ours also. “But as for me, I trust in you.”