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Fear and faith seem to be polar opposites. Is fear the opposite of faith? Can you have peace in the midst of panic? Does trust mean wearing blinders to the reality around us? What does it mean to “be anxious about nothing” when uncertainty plagues our world?
We’re living in a rapidly changing global reality and, let’s face it – it’s terrifying. Can we stop telling each other “don’t be afraid?” I’m not sure that’s helping. In fact, let me give you permission: It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. These are scary times. I don’t think experiencing fear is the problem. But I do know that it matters how I respond to fear.
Faith and Fear Through Changing Times in the Bible
I find myself returning again and again to the book of Exodus. I can’t think of a better example of a generation that had to walk through crisis, change, plagues and wilderness experiences, yet their story is not one of defeat but one that highlights the miracles of God. The entire narrative is filled with the power and the presence of God Almighty. In the centre of the whirlwind, God was near.
Time and time again, we see how terrified the Israelites get. Sometimes you want to shake them – God clearly had things under control – but other times, their fear was well-founded. What then?
Like the time they camped by the Red Sea.
It should have been a time of rejoicing – the 10th plague had come through Egypt but the Israelites had come through unscathed thanks to the Passover preparations. Pharaoh had relented. The Egyptians had gifted the Israelites with gifts of provisions and wealth to send them on their way. They were free!
But then… fear rears its ugly head.
Fear in Egypt
It’s interesting to me that the Israelites weren’t the only ones dealing with fear – the Egyptians were just as fearful.
Just before this, Pharaoh had set aside his arrogance in recognition that God was in control, not him. He submitted his will to God’s.
Now he realizes what he’s done.
As reality sets in, Pharaoh is scared: the slaves are gone. Who makes the meals? Who cleans the palace? Who builds the roads? How will the economy survive? We can’t do this.
And when fear came calling, Pharaoh chose to ignore what he knew to be true: this was a battle he couldn’t win.
God had been systematically battering down every stronghold Pharaoh had. Each of the 10 plagues was a direct assault against a god of Egypt, against the pride and strength of Egypt and of Pharaoh himself. There was nothing left that had not been conquered. But in his fear, Pharaoh fell back into his rut of believing he was an all-powerful god. He ignored the truth right in front of him. He reached for control.
I’m quick to judge Pharaoh – he should have given in 7 plagues ago! But if I’m honest, control is what I often reach for in times of fear too. When things are uncertain, I hold onto what is certain. When things feel out of control, I grasp for control myself.
I micromanage, trying to control those around me. It often means I have to dismiss or deny what I know to be true and lie to myself to feel like I’m in control of a situation when I’m clearly not.
It’s not so bad. It won’t affect me. It will never happen here.
Oh, the power of self-deception.
And for the record? It never leads anywhere good.
Exodus 14:6,9I micromanage, trying to control those around me. It often means I have to dismiss or deny what I know to be true and lie to myself to feel like I’m in control of a situation when I’m clearly not. Click To Tweet
He brought his full anger and full strength to face the God who had proven Himself stronger every time.
Spoiler alert: this won’t end well.
Fear and Faith – Responding to Fear with Panic
While Pharaoh chose to respond to fear with a need for control, the Israelites have quite the opposite approach: in their panic, they want to run away. It’s a classic portrayal of the “fight or flight” response – Pharaoh’s instinct is to fight while the Israelites go into full-on flight.
Do they know what they’re saying? For the first time in generations they are free. And, only days after God’s last demonstration of power against those who opposed Him and protection of his people, they’re ready to go back to voluntary slavery.
It’s hard to judge the Israelites – their fear was well-founded. Despite God’s recent victories, the Egyptian army was unbeatable and they were laden with livestock, not weaponry. There was no way forward and no way back. Their fears were very real, very present and absolutely legitimate.
But they were allowing their fears to take the driver’s seat in their lives. Fear can be a wise counselor, but it’s a terrible decision maker.
It’s not bad for fear to inform your decisions – the Israelites were right to cry out to the Lord. But when fear takes over, our panic can lead to devastating results.
If the Israelites had gotten their way, the army would have been met with a broken and surrendered people, willing to give up the lives of their children for the privilege of serving as slaves in Egypt.
Thankfully, that’s not how the story ends.Fear can be a wise counselor, but it's a terrible decision maker. Click To Tweet
Responding to Fear With Faith
Moses was in the same situation as everyone else.
He was no warrior, and had no secret resources or plans the others didn’t know about.
He saw no escape either.
Yet when faced with the same fears, Moses responds in faith.
He didn’t know what God would do, but he knew God had brought them this far.
He remembered how impossible this very moment seemed when God first approached him in the burning bush. He had seen God’s power at work so many times that he believed that same power was available now.
He remembered the promises God had made, and believed God would keep them.
He didn’t know how they could be victorious, but he had faith.
He remembered what was true.
He reminded himself of who God is.
He believed God would keep his promises.
He trusted when it seemed hopeless.
We know the end of the story. Pharaoh’s actions lead to the deaths of himself and his entire army. The people of Israel took a risk and instead of running away in their fear, chose to walk in faith. Moses’ faith led him to trust God for the most impossible miracle of all: a way through the sea.
And God’s people were set free.
Faith and Fear – When WE Are Afraid
I once thought adults were never afraid. I was always so scared as a kid, and adults were constantly reassuring me. I couldn’t wait until I grew up and didn’t have to deal with fear anymore.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. I may not fear the monster in my closet, but the specter of debt, illness, harm to my children or broken relationships still loom large in my life.
I’ve thought about Pharaoh, the Israelites and Moses, especially in today’s climate of fear. If I’m honest, I relate more with Pharaoh than with Moses and I struggle with the admission that I am not in control. And that’s okay because I’m learning.
Learning to look to God’s promises and trust them.
Learning to believe God is on the throne, and He is good.
Learning to remind myself of all the times God has come through in the past – He will not fail me now.
Hey, we’re going to have to face fear, whether because of the economy or our health or the global situation – fear is one constant throughout the ages. Let’s choose to face our fear with faith, knowing that we are never alone.Learning to remind myself of all the times God has come through in the past – He will not fail me now. Click To Tweet
Meet Kirsten Kroeker!
Hi there! I’m a proud Canadian, living in Winnipeg where I adore summer adventures and survive our long winters with plenty of hot tea and reading great science fiction and fantasy novels. My favourite things to do include canoeing camping trips and playing board games with friends.
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