This is the first in a series of posts on overcoming fear with hope.
On my (nearly) daily walks with my wife, I see a sign that puzzles me. It’s a graphic, actually. The sign consists of a black silhouette of a squatting dog doing his business. A white “NO!” is emblazoned across the doggy silhouette’s middle.
What puzzles me about this is that the sign is posted inside a fence. Dog walkers would have to throw Fido over the fence and then climb in after him to soil this particular plot of land.
It is clear that I’m missing something.
We erect signs offering directions, providing warnings, and issuing commands only because we want to avert a likely occurrence.
“Do Not Enter” and “No Trespassing” signs generally appear where people have entered or trespassed, or at least where people are likely to do so. I challenge you to find one in the middle of the Sahara.
This is why the various forms of “Fear Not!” found in the Scriptures make a great deal of sense.
We find opportunities to be afraid or to worry all around us:
Our parenting scares us to death. We worry that we won’t be able to protect our children from bullies, sex offenders, and Internet brain rot.
And even if we happen to keep them safe, we might fail to provide the dance class, sports team, camp, article of clothing, music lessons, or cultural exposure that will insure their happiness and success.
A perennial favorite among fears is that we’ll run out. There won’t be enough: to retire, to send the kids to college, to take care of myself in extreme old age, or just to make the bills this month.
Some have developed the habit of imagining the worst-case scenarios for every situation. They wait for the next shoe to drop.
The next shoe can come in the form of national or even global calamities. The national debt will wipe us all out. Global warming is destroying the planet. (I’m not affirming or denying either of these things, just pointing out how obsessive we can be about them.)
And fear can get really personal. We fear we won’t matter, we’ll be rejected, we won’t measure up, we’ll fail, we’ll be found out, or we’ll be crushed by the challenges we face.
No wonder the Bible tells us repeatedly not to fear. (I read once that there are 366 instances, one for every day of a Leap Year. I haven’t counted, personally.)
It’s not just that fear is a recurring theme in our daily lives. Fear robs us of the joy for which we’ve been created.
Fear is a kind of spiritual suffocation, like when bigger kids held us under water in the swimming pool. (Okay, maybe that was just me.) We panic because something stronger than ourselves threatens to cut us off from the very stuff of life.
It may not feel like fear or worry (and certainly not panic) at the time.
Maybe we’re just tired or irritable or resentful or angry. Maybe we feel overwhelmed by too much to do with too little time or impatient with the incompetence and indifference of those around us.
This is just fear masquerading as something else that we find easier to accept in ourselves.
If the Bible merely ordered us to cut it out, its repeated warnings against fear would be completely unhelpful. It would be something on the order of telling an accident victim to stop bleeding without treating the wound.
Of course the Bible does more than this. It diagnoses the cause of our fear and offers us a path toward liberation from fear. That path is the path of hope.
In the next few posts we’ll be talking about fear and hope. Is God looking out for us? Does he provide for us? How can our suffering and disappointment be reconciled with the idea that God actively cares for us? How can hope displace fear? These are some of the thoughts I’ll be mulling over for the next few days.