Fear

Preaching and Worship Resources about Fear

The Bible speaks of two kinds of fear: an abject, heart-sinking terror at some imminent danger, and an awe-filled and holy reverence before something or someone overwhelmingly great. Regarding the first, the Bible often calls those who trust in God to "be not afraid." The second kind of fear, often called "the fear of the Lord," suggests a kind of respect, reverence, and trust that is the very antidote to being afraid. When we fear the Lord we need fear nothing else in heaven or earth.

In Scripture

The cold grip of fear shows up in the Bible with the advent of sin. As soon as they eat from the forbidden tree, Adam and Eve sense their naked shame. When God comes to the garden for his daily walk, they slink away and hide, saying "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself" (Gen. 3:10).

Throughout the Bible, people in various circumstances are told "Fear not!" In some cases this happens when they face a truly fearsome situation. When the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt, they turn around to find Pharaoh pursuing them. Their backs are to the sea — they're trapped. "Do not be afraid," says Moses, "Stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today" (Ex. 14:13). In other cases people are told not to be afraid when they are confronted by God or one of the angels, as when the angel tells Mary not to be afraid at the annunciation.

The Bible's wisdom literature echoes with the call to fear the Lord. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). Or, "Fear the Lord, you his holy ones . . . " (Ps. 34:9). Some newer Bible versions translate this, "Reverence the Lord," seeking to demonstrate the distinctive quality of this fear. Rudolf Otto called this type of fear "an encounter with the numinous." It is a combination of awe and adoration, wonder and worship, a kind of holy love.

God is Fearsome Yet there is a sense in which God is truly fearsome. The character of wickedness is that "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Ps. 36:1). In Revelation, the wicked cry out to the mountains, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16). As the writer to the Hebrews put it, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).

"Perfect love casts out fear," according to 1 John 4:18. This is perhaps the deepest truth about fear in the Bible. When we encounter the deep love of God in Jesus Christ, we are delivered from fear once and for all, whether that's fear of God's judgment or fear of the evil that might overtake us in the world. Like a child in the arms of a parent, we are safe from our fears in the arms of our loving God.

Points to Ponder

Elenor Roosevelt "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Frederick Buechner "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."

G.K. Chesterton "We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man's terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.