how to fear

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.

“But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowl­edge.”
- 1 John 2:20

Wanna reach out and ask me some ques­tions? Or do you want clar­i­fi­ca­tion on some­thing writ­ten here? If so, write me a let­ter. I’d love to hear from you and I’ll respond. I bet your hon­est ques­tion will pro­duce insights that will ben­e­fit other read­ers.