Fear Itself

One of the greatest and most important lessons that I’ve learned over the past year or so has been about fear. Before I found my current church and met the people there, I never realized just how powerful fear—and it’s opposite, faith—can be. If I were to choose the three most valuable things that God has shown me throughout my life so far, the first would be that believing in him is both logical and reasonable; the second would be that doubt is not only okay, but necessary to faith; and the third would be that faith and fear are both choices, and my choices in this area will define my life.

The Bible tells us a lot about faith and fear. It tells us that while we are living in this world, we are a part of an unseen war between the powers of goodness and darkness. As much as that may sound like the tagline for a modern sci-fi novel, the truth is that this plotline was originally introduced in the Bible, and it continues to be the reality of life today. As you might guess, God is the King on the side of goodness, and the devil (AKA the enemy) is the evil force on the side of darkness. Whether or not we recognize it, the war is raging on, and both sides have their own weapons of mass destruction. Fear is what the enemy uses to capture his prisoners, and faith in God is what we use to fight back.

I’ve become more and more aware of this spiritual warfare over the past year, and especially recently. I recognize these themes in many other places as well. A little while ago, I was watching the movie After Earth and I couldn’t help but notice how strongly this idea is portrayed. The premise of the movie, set in the future, is that humans have been forced to abandon Earth and live on a planet called Nova Prime, where they face new dangers in the form of alien attacks. The aliens use a type of monster called an Ursa as their main weapon; the Ursas are huge, nasty-looking creatures who locate and kill their human prey by smelling their fear. It is discovered that the soldiers can defeat the Ursas by eliminating their fear, a technique called “ghosting”; when they do so, they become invisible and can then kill the otherwise blind creatures.

One of the most memorable lines in the movie is when the main character explains to his son how he learned to ghost. He says: “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story and that day mine changed.”

There is so much truth in these lines. Fear comes from thinking about something bad happening in the future, whether the immediate future or sometime farther off. In both the movie and in reality, fear is very powerful; it allows the characters in the movie to be seen and killed by the enemy, and it allows us to be controlled and affected by our enemy. Yet the choice is ours. We can tell ourselves the story of bad things happening, thus giving the enemy power over us; or, we can tell ourselves the story of good things happening, believing for the best and refusing to let fear cloud our minds. This is the essence of faith. When we have faith instead of fear, we may not become invisible to our enemy, but we do become untouchable.

The power of faith comes directly from Jesus. The Bible says that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, dying on the cross to pay the price for all of humanity’s bad choices, we now have freedom. Colossians 1:13-14 says “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (NIV). It also says in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (ESV). In other words, there is a “God part” and an “us part” to this process. Jesus died and rose again; with his blood, he covered us and made us perfect in God’s eyes, and with his victory over death, he gave us the ability to have victorious lives. In order to receive any of this, though, we have to believe it and confess it. God’s grace and our faith have to meet in order to see the power of God over the enemy in our lives.

Faith allows miracles to happen. The first miracle that faith brings is called salvation, when we accept Jesus and become a part of his kingdom forever. But faith is not just for saving our souls; it’s for saving our lives as well. In Matthew 9:29 Jesus said “according to your faith, let it be done to you.” In other words, we will see only as much good in our lives as we believe we will receive. The stories we tell ourselves are powerful indeed. We can have the abundant lives that Jesus came to give us, if we let faith rule and tell fear to take a hike.

Of course, faith is not easy most of the time. Sometimes, for me at least, it can feel downright naïve and unrealistic. For instance, does it really make sense to believe that I will not die prematurely and to refuse to fear death? The world tells me that I could die at any moment. But the Bible says “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (Psalm 118:17 ESV). Which should I choose to believe? For me, the answer is God. If I let the enemy fill me with fear of dying, then I step out of God’s protection; it’s my choice. I can either listen to the story that God is telling me, or I can listen to the story that the devil is telling me. My choice will define my reality.

Ever since Cory and I lost our first baby, Sam, early in pregnancy, I’ve been struggling with fear about future pregnancies. The devil is trying to whisper things in my ear, and it has not always been easy to ignore that. Sometimes, it has felt extremely illogical to believe that I will never lose a baby again. A while ago, while talking to Cory about it, I said that I felt like God was asking me to stick my head in the sand and ignore reality. But then a thought occurred to me; why would I be afraid to “stick my head in the sand” if I knew that somebody was standing guard next to me? Perhaps trusting God sometimes feels like we are being foolish and ignoring reality, but maybe that’s okay. God is standing guard over us, and he is the most trustworthy and undefeatable guard imaginable. The truth is that trusting him often means we have to take control of our minds, pushing away thoughts that are not from God and filling them with his words instead. Some may call this ignorance, but it makes perfect sense when you believe in the power of fear and faith. I believe because of the clear results I’ve seen in my life.

My miscarriage was about more than just the one event making me sad; it was the enemy’s attempt to stop me from my future and block my trust in God. The enemy delights in bringing despair and ending lives prematurely, and I have no doubt that he was behind it. But I also believe that he did even more damage than it first appeared. If I had let him, he could have used this experience to fill me with fear about the future. Taken to the extreme, I may have never wanted to try to have a baby again, and my fear would have kept me from what I believe is one of the main purposes for my life, being a mother.

Unfortunately for the devil, I can see what he’s trying to do and I’m not falling for it. I believe what God tells me in the Bible: “He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 113:9 NLT). I have faith in God, and whenever fear tries to slip back in, I tell it to get lost. The victory is mine through Jesus if I’m willing to claim it.

It seems like FDR had a good point when he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The lesser known second part of that sentence is equally wise: “—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Fear truly is an unreasoning force which keeps us from advancing forward. Fortunately, with faith, we truly have nothing to fear—not even fear itself.