When I was a child, there was a song titled “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” It was sung as a kind of game to teach children to identify what makes things the same and what makes them different. Often there was a photo of three or four items and the child had to choose which one did not belong with the others.
This is true with the word “fear” in the Bible. God’s word talks about three kinds of fear, but one of them is unlike the others.
Fear in the Bible
For those familiar with the Bible, it is common knowledge that “do not fear” is a frequent command found throughout Scripture. This command is often found in the context of divine revelation, such as when God’s people were called to fight a battle or when a prophet warned of pending punishment for sin. This command was intended to comfort God’s people and to encourage them to trust in him. One such example is when Moses led God’s people through the Red Sea:
“And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever” (Exodus 14:13).
When the Bible says, “do not fear,” the word fear refers to terror or panic. There are two types of this fear in Scripture. The first kind is often called “natural fear.” It’s the kind of fear that comes naturally to humans in a post-fall world. We live in a world where there are natural disasters, pandemics, losses, violence, political upheavals, and more. We all know what it’s like to approach a dangerous situation and our heart starts pounding and our adrenaline spikes. We quickly move ourselves to a place of safety. Natural fear gets us to run out of a burning building or find safe shelter in a thunderstorm. Natural fear is something even our Savior felt as he faced the cross that was to come (see Luke 22:39-46).
The Bible also mentions another kind of fear and this is the kind of fear that rules over us. It governs our choices and directs our path…
Have you ever said to someone “Just trust me?” We often say these words because we love the person and believe we have greater wisdom than they do in a particular situation. Likewise, our heavenly Father loves us so much that He wants us to trust Him.
God Is Trustworthy
God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness is rooted in His covenant. He has initiated a relationship with His people. This relationship does not depend upon our faithfulness but His, and it is secured by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We see God’s trustworthiness as the history of salvation unfolds from Genesis through Revelation. In the entirety of the covenantal structure of Scripture, we learn that God is faithful to fulfill His promises. As Paul says, “For all the promises of God in [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). Because God has been faithful to us and saved us, we can trust Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s Trust in the Face of Fear
At the appointed time, God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary. The angel told her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). Mary was very troubled by the angel’s saying. However, the angel instructed her not to fear because she had found favor with God. She would have a son, and this son was to be named Jesus. He would be great and called the Son of the Highest. He would reign forever in an eternal kingdom. Mary questioned how this could be. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that by God’s power she would conceive. The child she would carry would be called the Son of God. Mary replied to the angel, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38).
Mary’s story displays what it means to trust the Lord. First, when Mary had every reason to fear, she responded in faith. Think about the last time you were gripped with fear. Maybe the career path you had chosen wasn’t going as you had expected, and you feared the outcome. Perhaps you, or a loved one, received a diagnosis that was difficult to hear and that drastically changed your lifestyle. Maybe you were headed on vacation and feared for your family’s safety, especially your young children’s. Perhaps you were afraid about how the difficulties in your marriage were going to turn out…
In Seminary, my professor opened one of our counseling courses with this bold generalization: Everyone struggles with anxiety. “Everyone is anxious,” he explained, “Some of us just haven’t admitted it to ourselves yet.”
I sat there vigorously taking notes, but determined to prove to him that he was wrong. Not everyone is anxious, that is far too broad of a claim. I could prove it to him, too, because I am not an anxious person. Sure, I struggle with anger, my words, jealousy, but I’m definitely not anxious. I don’t second guess myself in social settings. I don’t get a pit in my stomach with the thought of a confrontation. I don’t stay up at night worrying. I am not anxious!
He then prompted us to reflect on times of fear in our life. I was flooded with memories. My first day at a new school. Camping on a mountain in the midst of an epic thunderstorm, crouching outside the tent to avoid getting struck by lightning. College applications, the possibility of rejection. The professor made the connection I had missed. Fear is anxiety. We are all anxious…