But in glorious tension to our call to holy fear, is the fact that scripture is also downright littered with the command not to fear. Upon close examination, a precise delineation appears:
FEAR: DO NOT FEAR:
The LORD Man (i.e. what the world fears)
God’s command to fear Him (given to a person riddled with fear and anxiety), can seem egomaniacal and twisted. His command not to fear what the world fears (given to this same sort of person) can feel deeply insensitive and profoundly out of touch with reality. If it seems that way, we would do good to question what lies we are believing that directly contradict our Lord.
A synagogue official came to Jesus because he was desperate for his sick daughter to be healed, but before he could get to the front of the Jesus line, word came that his daughter had already died. So right there in earshot of Jesus, this man learns that he has lost his precious daughter. This is what Jesus replies to this worst-of-all-news news. “’Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well [saved]’” (Luke 8:50). I have zero hours of grief counseling training, but I am pretty darn sure that this is not something you want to say to a dad whose daughter has just passed away. Jesus’ psychotherapy is way off here. I seriously wanted to say to Jesus, “How dare you?” when He said this to me on the verge of losing my own children. But He didn’t give me or the holy man time. He just keeps going.
“’Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep’” (Luke 8:52). Ok, now Jesus has moved from misanthrope to lunatic. I am ready for fisticuffs, but the people around Jesus that day “began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died” (Luke 8:53). These people are mocking Jesus because they know the truth. They know what can be proven by the sight of a body when the spirit has departed, the sound that is the silence of this little girl’s absent aspiration, the smell of her cells beginning to perish, the feel of her skin without blood circulating through it, the taste of their own tears. They know something the God of the universe doesn’t know, and they are taking pleasure in His ignorance. See, God, you just don’t understand what is going on here. You couldn’t understand and be commanding away fear and claiming that waking up is possible.
But, of course, Jesus is neither misanthrope nor lunatic. His command to fear Him comes from humility and lovingkindness. See me as I am: God with you, the I AM who holds the power of hell and death. And His command not to fear everything else comes from an altogether holy sympathy. God is not out of touch when He tells us not to fear. He is not slapping our hand and taking away our recess here any more than He is some sort of decrepit granny patting our hand and saying, “There, there, dear, don’t worry.” When He is commanding us to fear and not to fear all at once, He is asking us to see the absolute truth—to see things as they really are. See?
See, the people saw a dead girl, but Jesus had eyes to see a coming resurrection. See? When God commands, “Do not fear! Let your hands be strong,” (Zechariah 8:13), He is saying, “Allow Me.” I have something to contribute here—an option you never even dreamed of. Let me strengthen your hands. Let me bring about a new thing. "Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert" (Isaiah 43:19).
Jesus spoke to that grieving father, “Faith, man!” We do not want to hope in the face of adversity, but it is our high calling to do so, because we serve a God who literally makes beauty from ash. Do you remember that He FEARFULLY and wonderfully made you from dust? When He asked that mourning dad to stop fearing, He was directing the man’s fears to their proper resting place. He was drawing his gaze from the problem to The Solution. Look at me! I am more fearsome than death. This thing isn’t scary because of Who I AM—because death trembles at the sight of Me.
Martha Beck has one of the most beautiful takes on God’s strange commands regarding fear. She says this more concisely and more directly than I am capable, so I will let her take this one home.
“’Don’t be afraid’ was not a commandment to be brave, not a dismissal of my fear, not a testament to the power of positive thinking. It simply meant that there was nothing to fear in the first place” (Expecting Adam 182).