“Fear Not,” by Doug Bennett

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, October 16, 2023

“Fear not.”  That’s my message this morning:  “Fear not.” 

In the Bible, this may be the statement most commonly said by God, or by one of God’s special messengers.  I’ve read that this phrase appears 103 times in the Bible.  I don’t know whether that’s an accurate count but it’s a big number. 

“Fear not.”  There aren’t that many clear, unambiguous instructions from God in the Bible (even if some people mistakenly think there are).  But there is this one:  “fear not.” 

I don’t know whether it’s an instruction or a command, an exhortation or a soothing comfort.  Maybe it’s all of these.  Maybe sometimes it’s one and sometimes another.

“21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones. Thus he reassured them and comforted them.”  That’s Genesis 51:21.  It’s Joseph speaking to his brothers who had sold him into slavery.  The brothers had worldly reasons to fear what Joseph might do.  But Joseph is telling them what God wants him to say:  fear not. 

Or how about this:  22 You shall not fear them; for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’”  That’s Deuteronomy 3:22.  That’s Moses talking to Joshua, his military commander, telling him that God will look out for them as they conquer their way toward the Promised Land. 

And then there’s this:  Fear not, for I am with you;  I will bring your offspring from the east,  and from the west I will gather you;”  That’s from Isaiah 53:5, the prophet Isaiah speaking, at a time when God’s people weren’t paying attention and had worldly reason to worry that God was very displeased with them. 

I’m not going to read all 103 instances, but I’ll read one more.  “Fear not” is not only in the Hebrew Testament.  Here is Luke 1:30, the beginning of the Christmas story:  30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.”  That’s the Angel Gabriel speaking to Mary, giving her good – if surprising — news. 

“Fear not.”  It’s said over and over again.  “Al tirah;”  that’s the Hebrew. 

There’s a lot to fear in this world.  In the book of Exodus, with the Israelites in captivity in Egypt, God sent ten plagues:  water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of firstborn children.  And God counsels “fear not.” 

In recent years, we’ve had what begins to feel like our own ten plagues.  Terrorist acts, endless war, financial panic, wildfires, more war, Covid pandemic, hurricanes, school shootings, attempted election theft, abortion madness (whichever side you’re on).  You get why we’re fearful.  But God says, “Fear not.” 

Many are feeling anger, too, but much of that anger grows out of fear.

I’m talking to myself this morning as much as I’m talking to any of you.  I wake up to the temptation to feel fear every day.  And I go to sleep facing the same temptation.  Fear can paralyze us.  I find myself bracing for the next bit of bad news.  I don’t do anything constructive because I want to hear that next bit of bad news. 

In the science fiction classic Dune, Frank Herbert has a character – it’s Paul Antreides – say “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” 

It’s the same thought.  When we fear, we diminish ourselves; we die a little without really dying, we die a little-death.  We grow passive; we withdraw from life.  And there’s more: we isolate ourselves from others; we withdraw from God.  Fear takes us over.  It becomes all consuming. 

God says “fear not:” if we can do that, then what?  If we can manage to follow God’s instruction, to “fear not,” if we empty ourselves of fear, what next?  With what do we fill the large hole that fear has been filling up inside us?  When we empty ourselves of fear, when we let it go, what should we look to find instead?

This oft-repeated exhortation to “fear not” is telling us what not to do.  It isn’t, just in these words, telling us what we should do.  But isn’t it obvious?  Isn’t courage the alternative to fear? 

Here’s the surprise for many of us.  God does not tell us to “have courage.”  To exhort us to “have courage” would have us rely on ourselves.  But that’s not it; that’s not what we should do. 

Instead, over and over, God says “trust in me;” “have faith in me.”  The opposite of fear isn’t courage.  It’s faith.  It’s trust in the Lord.  It’s “know that God loves you, always.”

Listen to Psalm 56:

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?

And here’s Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.The Lord of Hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.

We may find courage once we have faith, but faith and trust come first — and love.

In 1:John:1, one of the letters in the New Testament, we are told to “rely on the love God has for us.”  That letter continues:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Trust in the Lord.  Have faith.  Give yourself over to love:  that’s what God tells us when God tells us not to be caught up in fear. 

The first bit of the Bible I learned by heart was the 23d Psalm.  Perhaps you learned it, too, as a child.  I invite you to say it with me: 

The LORD Is My Shepherd  A Psalm of David.  The 23d Psalm

1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
a
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
b
for his name’s sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,c
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6Surelyd goodness and mercye shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell
f in the house of the LORD forever.g

So Friends, this morning I am reminding you of God’s reassurance, “fear not.”  Trust in God.  Have faith.  Love one another and love God.  Remember that God is with us, always. 

also posted on River View Friend

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