“Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” —Isaiah 44:8
Fear is a tricky concept. Depending on exactly how you use it—especially the exact word you’re using (fear, afraid, fearful, etc.) or the context in which you use it (afraid of one’s own shadow as opposed to fear of God, for example)—it can have a very different meaning and a different valence.
Whatever else we say about fear, we all recognize that, for good and bad, fear is a reality for all of us. Part of being alive is being afraid, at least some of the time. There’s no such thing as a literally fearless life.
This is probably why there’s such a strong emphasis in both the Old Testament and the New Testament on courage. Throughout history, God has told those who follow him that a healthy fear of God (meaning respect, awe, honor, recognition of power and authority) is necessary for healthy life, but that fearfulness that questions God’s goodness and providence is something to be cast out, resisted, overcome.
God is supposed to rule over us. Fear is not.
It’s normal and natural to feel fear. But when fear gets in the way of the free, joyful, hopeful, generous lives we’ve been invited into, it must be overcome. Too many of us are controlled and guided by fear.
So what do we do? The primary answer throughout Scripture, and this is the point in Isaiah 44, is that we respond to fear by looking to God, who is greater and stronger and more authoritative than anything we fear. God is greater than unemployment. God is greater than sickness. God is greater than corruption and irresponsible, self-centered leadership. God is greater than climate change and pandemic and injustice. God is greater than our regret and shame. The call is to keep our eyes on God and root our lives in his goodness and faithfulness.
And what this leads to, often, is taking courageous steps even though we still feel afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is behaving with virtue and character even though we are afraid. And the thing is, the more often we do this, the more often we find that, regardless of outcome, this feels like a better way to live. The more courageously we act, the less afraid we tend to feel.
So may we all acknowledge our fears this week. But rather than allowing them to control us, may we look to God, who makes and keeps promises. And may we step forward in character, virtue, strength, and courage, living as Jesus taught us to live.