Everyone has been afraid. Everyone fears. Fear is a natural part of our life. Yet, in other sense, fear is an unnatural part—it was never supposed to be part of the life God created us for. One day, in the new heaven and earth, there will be more fear, because there will be no more pain or suffering or death. But in this life, it is unavoidable and inescapable. How, then, can we face our fears?
FEAR IS ABOUT TRUSTING
In Psalm 34, when David praises God for delivering him from all his fears, he is talking about “terror” (Vs. 4). David experienced terrors because of all the “troubles” he faced (vs. 6).
Fear or terror involves a sense of losing control of our life or of having no grip on our circumstances. Today, perhaps more than ever, our fears abound. This is because as Americans and Westerners we are bent on autonomy, freedom, self-sufficiency, -mastery, -realization. In past generations and cultures you would have looked to God or a god, or to your family or community. But today when we face our fears, we have no greater source of security and strength to look to than ourselves. As a result, in our “gut” we know and feel that we are not enough.
Edward Welch says that deep down, “fear is a spiritual matter”. It’s a matter of what your hearts trusts in, hopes in, looks to for deliverance. It’s what you feel will never let you go. But everything we put our heart and trust into will let us go: youth and beauty, strength and health, relationships and affection, money and security, success and power, fame and influence will all sooner or later let you go and let you down.
FEAR IS ABOUT BOASTING
All these things and more provide for us a context or conditions for our happiness. When they are threatened, we grow fearful. Death, pain, suffering, the unknown, the loss of things we love, all shake the foundation we stand on, the source of our strength and security.
In these moments fear reveals what our boast or glory is: what we feel we ultimately need to have purpose, meaning, significance, and happiness in this life.
The question, “How can we face our fears?,” then, can be restated as, “How can we face life?” Life is hard. David faced it, with all its troubles, fears, and terrors, by singing, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Ps. 34:1)
Recently we were putting in a new dining room and kitchen floor. At different times I was doing certain things that in my mind made sense to me. But I quickly realized that I didn’t have a larger context or frame of reference within which or from which I could find true meaning and understanding. I needed that if I was going to be able to do things right.
To survive our fears we need “at all times” a larger context and frame of reference for life than this life, than ourselves.
FEAR IS ABOUT GIVING UP
Psalm 34 means that David is thankful for an experience he probably would have avoided at all costs. He was fleeing from his enemy, King Saul, and came to Achish, king of Gath. “And the servants of Achish said to him, ‘Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?’ And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.” (1 Samuel 21:10-12)
Then David “changed his behavior” and pretended to be insane. As a result the king drove David away and he was spared. But, remember, David says in Psalm 34 that “the LORD…delivered me from all my fears.” So who delivered who? David didn’t deliver himself; he makes his boast and glory in the strength and victory of Another.
David goes on and says that those who look to God are radiant. A “radiant face” reflects a heart that has found what it was missing. What was David missing? A savior. How did he find what he was missing?
Though he was prophesied and anointed to be the next king of Israel, though at that moment of “insanity” he held Goliath’s sword, the giant he had defeated with a sling, and though his reputation was “golden,” he didn’t look to himself nor to any of those other things.
Instead, David’s changed behavior was an act of humility, foolishness, helplessness, “clowning,” of losing grip on everything he believed would save him.
JESUS HAS ALREADY BEEN THERE ON THE CROSS
However, it wasn’t simply a matter of David losing his grip and control over his circumstances and life, but of him letting go and giving up control of everything he believed would save him: reputation, skill, weapons, promises. Only in giving up in trust could he be rescued. It wasn’t that David was giving in to his fears but that he was giving up in his fears to Another. He was looking away from himself, beyond himself, to a Savior.
Who, precisely, is David looking to and making his boast in? “(T)he angel of the LORD” (Vs. 7). In the Old Testament, the Angel of the Lord is seen as God (Judges 13:16-22). He is worshipped (Joshua 5:15), while other angels refuse to be (Revelation 19:10). He speaks God’s words, he is God speaking (Exodus 3:2-6). He is God’s “visible” representative and representation. In the New Testament, we come to understand that that person is in fact Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in his preincarnate form.
But Jesus would be incarnated, he would become flesh, and he would come to dwell among us and with us, the perfect image of God, the radiance of God’s glory. In his humility, foolishness, helplessness, and “clowning” he would live to give himself up on a cross and entrust himself completely to God, in order to face our greatest fears.
Are you afraid of pain and suffering? He endured the pain and suffering of an entire world and of all humanity due to the consequences of sin. Are you afraid of temptation? He was tempted in every way to disobey and doubt God but didn’t. Are you afraid of poverty or sickness? He became poor and gave up the riches of God’s glory and came down to earth, and here he took every sickness and sorrow upon himself. Are you afraid of the unknown and losing things you love? He went into the unknown of being separated from his heavenly father and lost that love because of our sin. Are you afraid of being alone? He was forsaken completely in our place. Are you afraid of death? He died for you to bring you eternal life.
Whatever pain or sorrow you enter in life, whatever fear or terror you face in life, Jesus has already gone ahead of you, he has already been there on the cross. He died of a broken heart, so we the broken-hearted could live and find comfort, help, and hope in him; he was crushed to death, so we the crushed in spirit—without any internal resources left—could be lifted up to life forever.
YOU LACK NO GOOD THING
Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone you love? It’s a very moving experience, especially if it’s been years since you’ve done so. When was the last time, if ever, that you looked into the eyes of God? What will you see? An ocean of love—Jesus Christ. You will be moved like nothing else on earth and in heaven can move you. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
When you are afraid, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!…those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Ps. 34:8, 10)