Fear is driving the world right now. As a Christian, I know God is still reigning. That will never change. As a pragmatist, however, it is very clear that the vast majority of people the world over are being engaged by and responding to, fear...in a dangerous way.
Christians are not immune to fear. Our salvation did not alter a thing in this fallen universe other than our spiritual genealogy and our citizenship. We are reborn waiting on the rest of creation to catch up (Romans 8:18-25). Despite being sons and daughters of God, we still bleed, suffer, die...and fear.
When Jesus told Martha, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26) did that make everyone who has subsequently died a physical death guilty of sin? (That’s a bit of a trick question) My point is that death reveals that we are still living (to a degree) under the curse of sin but it is not a sin to die (or else that would have made Jesus a sinner when He died on the cross. He did not commit sin but was made to be our sin [see 2 Cor. 5:21]). When the Bible says “fear not” it is like Jesus saying death holds no power over the believer. Don’t get used to death. It is not as permanent as it seems. Likewise, don’t give in to fear. You only empower it when you yield to it.
Having fear doesn’t make you any more of a sinner than dying does. It is just a reflection of our sinful nature in a cursed universe. Read Hebrews 2:14-15 and you will see what I mean. Fear is the bullwhip of Satan. Receiving a lash from it doesn’t mean you are wicked. It does, however, mean that you have been targeted.
What we allow fear to do to us is where the rubber meets the road in this discussion. Our response to fear leads us down one of two paths: heroism or cowardice.
One of my favorite channels on YouTube is “Medal of Honor Book.” Story after story of those who have been awarded that famous medal. You get a little about the recipient’s life, a little about the action that ultimately led to being awarded the medal, and a little bit of dialogue from the recipient about it. I’ve watched scores of those stories and have yet to hear a recipient say that he wasn’t afraid. As a matter of fact, many of them specifically say that anyone who says he was not afraid is lying. Fear did not stop them. Heroes.
Contrast that to the now infamous (armed) deputy who was on the campus of the high school in Parkland, Florida (Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) when Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students killing 17. When the shooting started, the deputy went to the building and “pulled his weapon but then retreated and took up a position outside, where he stood with his gun drawn” all the while listening to the mayhem inside. While teenagers were dying, he took cover. Coward.
Everyone deals with fear. It’s what you decide to do about it that makes you a hero or a coward. You either let it paralyze you or you push forward in spite of it.
That brings me to one of the heavenly Medal of Honor winners as forever recorded in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11. He gets his name mentioned and that’s it. But what a place to have your name recorded! You will find his name at the beginning of a list of names in verse 32.
All most people know about Gideon is that he led 300 soldiers (centuries before Leonidas’ 300) against a vastly superior conglomeration of armies (Midianites, Amalekites, and other “people of the East...like locusts in abundance” (Judges 7:12) to an astonishing victory. What a brave man! Fearless!
Not even close.
If you carefully read Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8 you’ll see a man relentlessly on the receiving end of Satan’s bullwhip of fear. We’re introduced to him “beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites” (Judges 6:11). Afraid of losing his harvest. The angel of the LORD appears to him and greets him with “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor” (6:12). Gideon basically responds with ‘I’m sorry, but you have the wrong guy.’ He talks about his clan being the weakest in Manasseh and him being the least in his father’s house (essentially saying that he is the runt of the litter).
Later, the angel tells him to tear down the altar to Baal in the town square (that his own father built) and build an altar to God. He does, but look what the author of Judges brings to our attention:
But because he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day, he did it by night (Judges 6:27).
Later “the Spirit of the LORD clothed Gideon” and he subsequently called his clan (the Abiezrites) and all of the tribe of Manasseh to form an army to face the Midianites et al. You’d think that being clothed with the Holy Spirit would have given him all the courage and confidence he needed. Right? Wrong. Remember the story of the sign of the fleece and the dew (Judges 6:36-40)? Now that he was in charge of an army, that old fear lashed out at him again. He tested God not once but twice just to make sure he was not about to be annihilated by a superior army.
Then you read of the weaning of the army. Thirty-two thousand men was too many according to God. Gideon and the army would think when they won it was because of their courage and skill. So God tells Gideon to tell everyone:
Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead” (Judges 7:3).
“Whoever is fearful”? It’s as if the author is suggesting that Gideon should have been the first in line to leave and “hurry away.” Twenty-two thousand men hurried away. Still too many. The water drinking test that followed culled the remaining 10,000 men down to 300. Now it was time for the battle. God showed up one last time telling Gideon to launch the attack. But look what He said to Gideon:
But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant...(7:10).
Obviously, God knew that Gideon was still afraid. So He made provision that Gideon would go down to the Midianite camp and overhear one sentry tell another about a dream he had that Gideon and his army would defeat them all.
Very clearly, the author of Judges paints a very intentional picture of Gideon as a man with self-esteem issues who constantly battled fear. Then why in the world is Gideon enshrined in God’s Hall of Fame of Faith? It’s very simple. Despite the ever-present companion of fear...he obeyed God. He was fearful all the time and yet he never willfully disobeyed God.
No one really conquers fear in this life any more than they conquer death in this life. It’s always there. In the darkness. In the valley. Even on the mountaintop. Waiting. Beat it once. It shows back up. Again. And again.
It’s love for God and faith in His will that compels us forward in spite of fear’s presence. All who obey God despite their fear(s) are heroes on par with Gideon.
It is not a sin to be lashed with the bullwhip of fear. Whether it’s COVID-19, cancer, job loss, or any of the myriad of things we can be (and are) afraid of. Just don’t let it paralyze you and make a coward of you. Push forward despite your fear. Obey God in spite of Satan’s bullwhip. And when you get to heaven and after you meet Jesus, go search out Gideon and give him a big hug. Tell him, “Thanks for showing me it was ok to be afraid just so long as I kept walking obediently.”