What frightens you? We all fear something to one degree or another. And in this fallen world, the options of things and circumstances to fear are endless. This year, it seems that all our fears have swarmed together, like a hive of bees ready for attack. You name it, if it’s frightening, it’s happened. A highly-contagious virus. Job loss. Tragic deaths. Disunity across the nation. Severe weather events. Uncertainty about the future.
And we can’t help but wonder, what’s next?
The Bible and Fear
The Bible acknowledges and speaks to the fears of this life. Our heavenly Father knows we live in a broken world where bad things happen—where illness and violence and loss abound. He knows our fears, our sorrows, and our cares. And throughout the Bible we read these words: “Do not fear.”
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Such a command seems impossible. After all, look at what is going on in the world. How does one not fear in the face of such turmoil, loss, and uncertainty?
God’s Word also says something else—another admonition the Bible sets on repeat: “Fear the Lord.” The two most common commands in Scripture, “do not fear” and “fear the Lord,” seem disconnected. Yet they belong together. One is not only greater than the other, it is the response to the other. When the Bible says, “Do not fear,” God is not telling us to simply stop fearing, as though if we put our mind to it, all our fears will go away. He is not telling us to just increase our faith and believe with all our might, as though we are Dorothy and by clicking our heels three times, we’ll find ourselves safe and sound in the comfort of home. Rather, the Bible calls us to something greater, to Someone greater. It calls us to turn from our fears to a greater fear, the fear of the Lord (see Matt. 10:28).
The Fear of the Lord
What does it mean to fear the Lord? Does it look like a deer caught in headlights? Because that’s often how I feel each night after watching the evening news. Does it feel like a sudden onset of nausea or does it make the heart race? Because that’s how I feel when I consider all the what ifs of the future. Does the fear of the Lord keep us up at night with thoughts that ramble down rabbit trails of all the things that could go wrong? Because that’s what happened to me when we thought my husband would lose his job.
In the Bible the word “fear” is used two different ways. The most common Hebrew word for fear is yirah. It is used to mean terror, as in how the men on the ship with Jonah responded when they were caught in a deadly storm (Jonah 1:10). It is also used to mean reverence, specifically in the context of the fear of the Lord, as in “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). We see the same in the New Testament where the Greek word used for fear is phobos. It means panic, flight, or terror. When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they responded with fear and terror, “‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear” (Matt. 14:26). It’s also used to mean awe and reverence as in how Luke described the early church, “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (Acts 2:43).
Context clearly matters when it comes to the word fear. This means the fear of the Lord is different than our other fears. It is greater. It is wholly other. And the more we read and study this fear throughout Scripture, we find that it involves more than awe or reverence. It also includes wonder, worship, adoration, gratitude, love, obedience, and trust. C.H. Spurgeon said that fearing the Lord is shorthand for “expressing real faith, hope, love, holiness of living, and every grace which makes up true godliness.”
A Greater Fear
We see an example of these two fears in the life of David. King Saul was jealous of David and wanted him dead, so David had to run and hide. He rightly feared for his life. We can only imagine what it was like for David to have to leave his home and family and hide out in desert caves. While in hiding, David wrote Psalm 57. Here we see an example of David bringing his fears to the Lord. He turns to the One who is greater. We see David’s fear of the Lord in the face of his fear.
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!” (Psalm 57:1–3)
David focuses his heart on who God is: God is his refuge, his place of shelter and safety. God is also sovereign over all; he has a purpose and plan for David’s life, and no one can interfere with that plan—even King Saul. He sees God as greater than Saul and his army. He also dwells on God’s love and faithfulness. And in the midst of his fear, he worships the Lord (vv.7–11).
The Bible is honest about the fears of life. There is much we can fear. But we have a great hope. We have access to the One who rules over all. We are beloved children of the God who created all things, who rescued and redeemed from sin and made us His own. Like David, we can bring our fears to our Father in heaven and know that He hears us. We can trust in His sovereign care over us. No matter what is going on around us, God is with us. Nothing can keep us from His love and grace for us in Christ. We can respond to our fears with a holy fear of the Lord, turning to God in awe, wonder, worship, love, and trust.
Because God is greater.
Editor’s note: Christina has written more on the topic of fearing God in her new book, A Holy Fear: Trading Lesser Fears for the Fear of the Lord. Pick up your copy today!