When my guinea pig, Hugh, was a baby, the roof of our home needed to be repaired. Up above us all day, we heard pounding through the ceiling, relentless from every corner of the house, and Hugh was not a fan. When moving his cage to the basement didn’t help, I held him in a blanket, I let him crawl into the pocket of my hoodie, hoping the rise and fall of my breathing would comfort him in some way, and I told him everything was okay in a cheerful voice. Nothing could ease the startled glances from his fear-filled face at the sound of the hammering above. His fears were very real. The noise was genuinely jarring, but there was no way he could possibly have known how perfectly safe he was in those moments. Just a few short months later, a pandemic swept the globe, leaving me battling daily with fears of my own. I feared for my family, I feared for my own fragile health, and every report from the front lines caused me to relive my brother’s death, who had died of pneumonia on a ventilator some years earlier. I thought back to the roof repair days, and my desperation to comfort my fearful guinea pig. If Hugh could not comprehend a roof repair, how much less capable am I to understand the complexities of what God is doing when my fears are so real? Imagine if God was wrapping me up in His hoodie pocket, saying, “I’m here, you’re safe, you just have to trust me.”
The Promises of God and Our Fear
Fear is an issue that has arisen far before the turmoil of 2020. We have only to look at the repeated and frequent encouragements to “fear not” in Scripture to see evidence of the universality of these fears. However, God’s instructions for us to fear not is not baseless or trite, like Cher’s iconic “snap out of it” face slap from Moonstruck. Instead, He both comforts and equips us to battle fears through His promises. Promises are grounded in who He is, what He does, and who we are to Him.
Our Fear and the Sovereignty of God
First, God reassures us in our fear with promises of who He is. We could begin to examine fear in light of who God is by exploring big-picture theological topics of sovereignty, His communicable and incommunicable attributes, and enough doctrine to fill several volumes, which would be a worthwhile pursuit. But, let us instead take a zoomed-in approach to the specific word pictures He gives us to alleviate our fears. Particularly, in matters of fear, He tenderly reveals himself in tangible, concrete metaphors that are not hard for our guinea pig, I mean, human brains to grasp. Fear not, for He is a shield (Genesis 15:1), light, salvation, and stronghold (Psalm 27:1), refuge, strength, and help in trouble, (Psalm 46:1), and shelter and deliverer, (Psalm 91). Psalm 91 goes on to describe God as one who covers us with His pinions, the strong outer feathers on a bird’s wing, and that we will find refuge under His wings. These are images of both tenderness and strength. When fear clouds our vision of God, putting Him at arm’s length, and causing us to flinch at what He might do next, passages like these remind us that He is the shelter in the storm, the solid rock in uncertainty, our refuge in trouble, our place of safety.
The Character of God and Our Fear
God also reassures us in our fear with promises of what He does. He reminds us of His past faithfulness, assures us of His present work, and imparts hope for the future. Let’s gather some of the treasure in these promises, by looking at another sampling of these “fear not” statements. Fear not, for He hears you (Genesis 21:17), goes before you (Deut. 1:21), He has taken up your cause, redeemed your life, and seen the wrong done to you (Lam. 58:59), He fights for you (Deut. 3:22), He holds your right hand (Isaiah 41:13), helps you (Isaiah 35:4), strengthens you, helps you, upholds you with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10), remains in your midst (Haggai 2:5), gives you His kingdom (Luke 12:32), He goes to prepare a place for you, and will come and take you to Himself (John 14:4), and He will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
These few examples speak to a God actively at work, who calls us to trust Him and provides us with more and more promises to which we may cling in hope. The common thread in all of these, and explicitly stated in many, many other verses, is His presence with us. He doesn’t promise to keep every scary, hard, tragic thing away from us, but He promises that whatever comes our way, He will be with us. The promise is immense and eternal, but also intimate, as close as your right hand. As Isaiah 43:2 promises:
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
Our Fear and the Person and Work of Jesus
Lastly, God reassures us in our fear with promises of who we are to Him. Returning to Isaiah 43:1, we learn the foundation of our confidence in the face of fear: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Who are we in God’s eyes? The redeemed. The once dead in our sin, and now raised to life in Christ. When God looks at us, He sees only the righteousness of His beloved Son. This is a love that paid the costliest price to secure us as His children. This is a perfect love that casts out fear. Isaiah 43 goes on, “you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” These words are so tender and powerful, and too often glossed over, but the implications of being precious and honored in His sight, cannot be overstated. Our fears can whisper lies to us that God is tolerant of us at best, and most often, disappointed, but the foundation of our standing before Him is unshakable.
In her commentary on 1-3 John, Marianne Meye Thompson put it this way:
“To know that we are forgiven for our sin, loved in our weakness, saved by his mercy, destined for fellowship with God all because we are supremely valued by God, that is to know the perfect love that drives fear away. It is not because of what we’ve done that we have such confidence before God, but because of what God has done for us.”
This love is not only secure but is also lavish, extravagant, and so extraordinarily near. Isaiah 49:16 states: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” Zephaniah 3:17 paints an even fuller picture: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” This language is jubilant! So great is the love of God, He almost seems giddy in these verses.
Our Fear and the Love of Jesus
Remember my guinea pig, Hugh? It’s no secret I’m slightly obsessed with him. The photo evidence on my phone is abundant, whether munching some veg, cuddling, sitting on my lap, playing ball, I’m often overwhelmed with how cute and darling he is. Few things fill my heart with greater delight than when he “popcorns,” a jump straight in the air that guinea pigs do when they are excited about something. I realized the other day that when I take his picture, he sees only the sparkly lavender phone case, the silver Apple logo, and the two black dots in the corner. He has no concept, nor could he comprehend, that I am capturing his image because he’s so loved. In the moments when he can’t see me, he couldn’t possibly fathom that I look at his picture, show people, or post it to social media. He would never guess all of the love and security contained in those two black dots on the back of my phone. How much less capable are we as humans of conceiving how intense the love of God is for us and how ardently treasured we are in His eyes? As the great hymn by Samuel Trevor Francis expresses so beautifully:
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward,
to thy glorious rest above.
If we could grasp but a little of this love, how quickly would our fears begin to fade away.