articlesqa January 20, 2017 how to fear
Ifeoluwapo Eleyinafe Article by Ifeoluwapo EleyinafeCreator and author of

I’ve been think­ing a lot about our re­cent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and what this means for things to come. So there I was, be­ing drawn into this pit of fear when God res­cued me with His Word. In my dai­ly de­vo­tions, I have been read­ing from Isa­iah 7 through chap­ter 12 over and over again. Been do­ing that for about a week now. In the Bible, the books of Chron­i­cles, Judges and Kings, tell us the phys­i­cal his­to­ry of Is­rael and Ju­dah. In or­der to get the spir­i­tu­al/eter­nal his­to­ry, you have to read the ma­jor and mi­nor prophets. This lit­tle chunk of Isa­iah from chap­ter 7-12 is the spir­i­tu­al his­to­ry of Ju­dah’s re­sponse to an in­va­sion by Syr­ia, Is­rael and lat­er As­syr­ia. You can read about the more phys­i­cal his­to­ry in 2 Chron­i­cles 28 and 2 Kings 16.

As a pre­emp­tion, this ar­ti­cle is NOT about pol­i­tics. It is about Fear. My con­cern is to ex­tol the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Sec­ond­ly, this ar­ti­cle is DENSE and medi­um long. So read it all or feel free to stop af­ter the first three para­graphs and read the side­note.

So any­way, in my de­vo­tions, I of course stum­ble on Isa­iah 8:11-13. You see in chap­ter 7, God had sent Isa­iah to tell Ahaz, who was a ter­ri­ble evil evil king, not to fear. He told him that Syr­ia and Is­rael would not suceed in tak­ing over Ju­dah. God even went as far to tell him to ask for a sign Isa­iah 7:10-14. We can spec­u­late about why God would even do this for such an evil man but Isa­iah 8 re­veals that at least 9 months af­ter God tells him not to fear the en­e­my kings or the com­ing in­va­sion, Ahaz is still melt­ing in fear. God gets so an­gry at Ahaz and Ju­dah that He promis­es that af­ter As­syr­ia is done de­stroy­ing Syr­ia and Is­rael, they will then come and take over Ju­dah. So God warns Isa­iah in Isa­iah 8:11-13 not to fear what the peo­ple fear or be in dread. Then He com­mands Isa­iah to make God his fear and his dread.

Nat­u­ral­ly, I be­gan to think about these vers­es. What does it mean to fear? What is dread oth­er than an old word we don’t use any­more? I thank God for Rudolf Otto and his won­der­ful lit­tle book called The Idea of Holy and I thank God for Soren Kierkegaard who wrote The Con­cept of Dread. With these books in my mind, I went back to 2 Chron­i­cles 28 and 2 Kings 16 and I looked at the be­hav­ior of Ahaz. You see Ahaz was afraid of Syr­ia and Is­rael and so his first move was to try to mas­ter and con­trol them. Ahaz used the trea­sures be­long­ing to God to buy help from As­syr­ia 2 Kings 16:7-9. And it worked. As­syr­ia beat the en­e­mies of Ahaz and it looked like Ahaz fi­nal­ly had con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion. But read ahead to 2 Kings 16:10-16. What a strange set of be­hav­iors. Ahaz just beat his ememies but now he takes the idols of the peo­ple that he feared and be­gins to wor­ship them. Not only this, he pushed the Holy One of Is­rael out of the way in or­der to do so. How so very odd. On the one hand, his fear caused him to seek to con­trol the thing he feared but at the same time, in a sort of spir­i­tu­al stock­holm syn­drome, his fear caused him to wor­ship and love the thing he feared. He both loved and hat­ed the ob­ject of his fear. Huh!? You could stop read­ing here. The rest of this ex­plains how fear and dread ac­tu­al­ly works. The long and short is this: Courage does not cast out fear. Se­cu­ri­ty doesn’t cast out fear. Courage and se­cu­ri­ty are chil­dren of fear. Only fear casts out fear Matthew 12:24-29. So if you ever want to stop fear­ing things or peo­ple or the fu­ture, make God your Fear.

To Fear is Hu­man

Well, it is easy to blame Ahaz but his be­hav­ior re­veals very fun­da­men­tal in­ner work­ings of the hu­man heart. Through Ahaz’s be­hav­ior we get to wit­ness the in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship be­tween fear and wor­ship. Here is the gen­er­al rule: Fear will al­ways al­ways lead to wor­ship. You will al­ways wor­ship the thing you fear. Did I say al­ways? Yes. Al­ways. Even more, when fear gives birth to wor­ship, we wit­ness a con­tra­dic­tion. When you be­gin to find in your heart both fear and wor­ship, a thing called dread has just been born. To quote Kierkegaard, “Dread is a sym­pa­thet­ic an­tipa­thy and an an­tipa­thet­ic sym­pa­thy.” Dread is a feel­ing of both at­trac­tion and re­pul­sion.

Few emo­tions are more cap­ti­vat­ing and en­sar­ing than dread. No jail has ever been more clev­er­ly de­signed than dread. A reg­u­lar prison will at least give you some space in a cell. But dread doesn’t even give you an inch be­cause it locks you in place by pulling you for­ward while si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly push­ing you away. With every for­ward step to­ward the ob­ject of your dread, you si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly take a back­ward step. With every back­ward step, you take a for­ward step. Some­one from the out­side watch­ing you try to make two op­pos­ing move­ments at the same time would say that you were trem­bling. But this trem­bling be­gan with fear. When a woman gives birth to a child, we call her a moth­er. She is still a woman but she is now a moth­er as well. In the same way fear be­comes dread when fear gives birth to wor­ship. And dread al­ways makes your en­tire be­ing (phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al) trem­ble.

When in Isa­iah 8:11-13 God com­mands us NOT to fear what the world fears, He is help­ing us avoid idol­a­try. Be­cause you will al­ways wor­ship the thing you fear and when the fear be­comes dread, then the ob­ject of your fear will be­come your jail. I know you may be think­ing, “That’s not true. I al­ways run away from any­thing that caus­es me fear.” So you fear pover­ty and flee into wealth. And when you get the mon­ey, and like Ahaz look back at all the trea­sures you sac­ri­ficed along the way, you then re­al­ize the you didn’t flee from pover­ty. In­stead, by run­ning away from pover­ty, you were run­ning into greater pover­ty. Let me give you a de­f­i­n­i­tion of wor­ship that you may have nev­er heard be­fore but will make sense af­ter you think about it. Wor­ship is the re-de­f­i­n­i­tion of iden­ti­ty through be­hav­ior that flees from or ap­proach­es a par­tic­u­lar ob­ject. Let that sink in for a sec­ond.

Fear and Trem­bling

The act of flee­ing your fear is an act of wor­ship. The act of em­brac­ing your fear is also an act of wor­ship. In ei­ther case, you are chang­ing your­self in re­sponse to some­thing out­side of you. You may have heard some Chris­tians praise pover­ty and hate wealth. All they are do­ing is em­brac­ing the pover­ty of which they are afraid. The com­mand in Matthew 19:21was not “Go and sell every­thing you have.” It was “Go and sell every­thing you have and fol­low me." In these sit­u­a­tions, em­brac­ing your fear is noth­ing more than spir­i­tu­al ex­po­sure ther­a­py which God is here com­mand­ing us NOT to en­gage in. There is a won­der­ful and amaz­ing clin­i­cal ther­a­py that treats peo­ple with crip­pling emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal anx­i­ety by slow­ly ex­pos­ing them to the very ob­ject of their fear. Please treat emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal fear by us­ing ex­po­sure ther­a­py. But the spir­i­tu­al com­po­nent of fear can only be treat­ed by fol­low­ing God’s com­mand here in Isa­iah 8:11-13.

What God is say­ing here is made even sim­pler then. Do not fear your way into wor­ship­ping the ob­jects that you see. Do not re­de­fine your­self by run­ning away from scary things or run­ning to­wards them. So why does God then tell Isa­iah to fear Him in­stead? Isn’t fear a bad thing? Doesn’t dread leave you par­a­lyzed? Why would God want to par­a­lyze me? It is fair to have these ques­tions be­cause so far we have spo­ken of fear and dread as a very con­strain­ing phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al states. But think about the free­dom and en­er­gy they pro­vide you. When you are afraid of a lion, you can run so fast. Con­sid­er the ex­treme be­hav­ior of Ahaz be­cause he feared Syr­ia and Is­rael. How many pa­pers have you fran­ti­cal­ly writ­ten in the dead of night be­cause you were afraid of the dead­line?

By trem­bling be­fore your ob­ject of fear and dread, you gain prodi­gious free­dom and strength to per­form ac­tions rel­a­tive to or in re­la­tion­ship with the ob­ject of your fear. This, again, is also known as wor­ship. Fear is what makes you run away from the lion and fear is what makes you charge and at­tack the lion. Fear has made the lion the real, con­crete ob­ject in your world. Every­thing you were do­ing be­fore im­me­di­ate­ly stops. For the next 30 sec­onds, every­thing you do, whether you at­tack or flee, now re­volves around the lion. So when God com­mands us to make God our fear and make God our dread, God is telling us how to make Him Real in our lives. He must be­come so real that all our ac­tions are rel­a­tive to or out of a re­la­tion­ship with Him.

To steal from physics, all move­ment, phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al, is only pos­si­ble rel­a­tive to a fixed an­chor. You have to push off some­thing fixed to jump. There­fore, you MUST fear some­thing be­cause fear through wor­ship be­comes dread and the ob­ject of your dread be­comes your an­chor. With­out the an­chor that that comes through fear and wor­ship and dread, you will find your­self spin­ning in the air and un­able to go any­where. For this rea­son Job de­fines wis­dom in terms of move­ment. Job 28:28 tells us that only those who are an­chored in the fear of the Lord are able to move away from evil. This move­ment, an­chored in the Pres­ence of God through a dread of Him, is what Job calls wis­dom and un­der­stand­ing. There­fore, be­cause you can­not move with­out fear, you should NOT be look­ing for courage to over­come your fears. In­stead, you should be look­ing for a bet­ter, Holy Fear that, like the staff of Aaron, eats up all the oth­er fears Ex­o­dus 7:10-12. The Per­fect Love that casts out all fear first pro­duces in you Holy Fear 2 Corinthi­ans 7:10. The only “an­ti­dote” to fear is Holy Fear. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, many men have trad­ed one fear for a greater fear be­cause one de­mon hap­pens to be big­ger than an­oth­er Matthew 12:43-45. Not so with God. There is none like Him. Hence the an­gels sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Un­der the Sun

The end of the mat­ter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his com­mand­ments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judg­ment, with every se­cret thing, whether good or evil - Ec­cle­si­astes 12:13-14. Fear and wor­ship, dread and trem­ble be­fore The One who frees you from the bondage of every oth­er fear. Fear be­fore the only One you can fear, and there­by cast out all oth­er fears. He is The Lord of Hosts, The Holy One of Is­rael, God Almighty be­fore whom the an­gels cov­er their face and shout “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Isa­iah 6:3. Trem­ble in holy fear be­fore God. An­chor your­self in His Pres­ence through holy dread and you will find free­dom and strength to do all He com­mands. Ir­ra­di­ate your­self with His Pres­ence through prayer, bible read­ing, fel­low­ship and obe­di­ence. Like Isa­iah in Isa­iah 6, you will learn to fear Him more, wor­ship Him more and make Him more and more Your Dread.

So when I look around the world and wit­ness the rise of au­thor­i­tar­i­an lead­ers, I am tempt­ed to fear and shout, “Con­spir­a­cy, con­spir­a­cy.” But I thank God for His Word and His com­mand­ment. He shows me Ahaz and so I see the weak­ness in my heart so plain­ly. Many who vote to­day do so out of fear of the chaos they see the world de­scend­ing into. They run from politi­cian to politi­cian be­cause of fear. And then there is the oth­er side who is vot­ing against every­thing the oth­er side is do­ing. All are fear­ing and also lov­ing chaos. Both par­ties, though act­ing dif­fer­ent­ly, are man­i­fest­ing the col­lec­tive dread that has cap­ti­vat­ed and im­pris­oned the whole na­tion. So that the na­tion now trem­bles nei­ther go­ing for­ward or back­ward. You can ob­serve this in the gen­er­al re­ac­tion of the po­lis. Most of the time the politi­cian you sup­port, you also find re­vil­ing. So also the politi­cian you re­vile, you think, “Maybe I can work with him.”

With­out God’s in­ter­ven­tion, the po­lar­iza­tion we are fo­ment­ing will ac­cen­tu­ate fear which leads to wor­ship and in­creas­es the dread which was al­ready par­a­lyz­ing the na­tion. Fur­ther­more, by con­tin­u­ing this fash­ion, our lead­ers are rev­el­ling as they al­low the Amer­i­can peo­ple (both sup­port­ers and de­trac­tors) to re­make them into idols of chaos. And like overt gods from cul­tures past, they de­clare to us that they have the pow­er to both make chaos and the pow­er to take chaos away. Peo­ple will scram­ble and sac­ri­fice (even their own chil­dren like Ahaz did) to sup­port or op­pose them not un­der­stand­ing that no mat­ter what side they take, they are wor­ship­ing them. Such pow­er is in­tox­i­cat­ing but their be­hav­ior is not new. They did not start the fire. Adam did. And all the lead­ers that came be­fore did the ex­act same thing in one form or an­oth­er. We have all been com­plic­it in this sin.

But Chris­t­ian, you have a way out of this mad­ness. You have a Fear that casts out all fears. You have a Dread that casts out all dread. By let­ting God be­come your fear and your dread, you gain the pow­er to love your broth­er no mat­ter who they vote for or who they vote agains. By fear­ing God, you gain the pow­er to serve faith­ful­ly un­der the lead­ers that are elect­ed even if they have tak­en pow­er by force. Pray for them and weep for them just as your Fear com­mands 1 Tim­o­thy 2:1-4. The Bible would have us un­der­stand, and it can­not be more clear af­ter read­ing Isa­iah 7-12, that God has cho­sen our lead­ers us­ing our very hands. He choos­es lead­ers and He takes them away. If Chris­t­ian, you no­tice that the move­ments of kings is not de­ter­mined by the king, then it stands to rea­son that our King­dom is not of this world and nei­ther is our King. Our Fear is not of this world.

You have far more im­por­tant things to wor­ry about than what you will eat or where you will sleep or whether you want your kids grow­ing in a na­tion such as this. Men and women are dy­ing eter­nal­ly. We all need Won­der­ful Coun­selor Mighty God Ever­last­ing Fa­ther Prince of Peace to right­eous­ly gov­ern our breath and every hair on our heads Isa­iah 9:6. Let us not fear and wor­ship or be par­a­lyzed in dread of the chaos and de­struc­tion to come. Let us not be par­a­lyzed by try­ing to flee and em­brace any idol. Let us in­stead make God our Fear and make Him our Dread. Let us be still and silent and trem­ble be­fore Him Psalms 46:10, Hab­bakuk 2:19-20, Phillip­i­ans 2:9-13. If we do this, we will be an­chored in His Pres­ence and there­fore free to move right­eous­ly in every phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and spir­i­tu­al di­rec­tion.

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“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” - Colossians 2:3