As a shepherd boy, David walked into the army camp and heard Goliath railing against God and the nation Israel challenging them to combat. He was astounded that there was not a single soldier who was zealous or brave enough to defend the honor of God and country. Every one was cowering in their tent with fear (1 Samuel 17:10-11).
Deny it though we may, this is a regular occurrence in every army in every war. Fear is the main reason why soldiers desert their posts and flee to safety. It is so common that every army has its own rules on dealing with deserters. The question then arises, is it really wrong to fear for our lives? Are soldiers wrong in deserting a futile battle? What is fear? Why is it such a powerful force?
The dictionary definition of fear is a negative sensation associated with an imaginary or perceived danger or threat. It is an emotional often-paralyzing distress provoked by an impending evil or pain. Various synonyms used include panic, terror, dismay, horror, dread and fright. Regardless of the name by which it is expressed, it has a common feature of being able to determine our response or reaction to events. The causes, types and results of fear have been the topic of many sermons and countless books both religious and secular. Many commentaries on overcoming fear are available from motivational speakers and leaders of religious groups from all faiths and creeds. Consequently this series will only attempt to give a basic background on fear and focus mainly on our assurance of victory as revealed in the Bible.
As a prelude to truly understand how to overcome fear, we must firstly examine how it came to be, how it all began.
Disobedience in the garden
Genesis 2:25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
The first man Adam and his wife Eve were created on the sixth day and God saw that they were ‘very good’. They were natural in their state, no clothing or coverings of any sort. They were plainly exposed to each other and indeed for the whole of creation to see. Their focus was entirely on God and the beautiful works of His hand so they did not notice their inadequacies or limitations.
Every evening when God took a stroll in the garden, Adam and Eve stood before Him in fellowship. They came just as they were, no pretentions, no masks, no fear, no inadequacies and certainly no shame. They basked in the Glory of their maker, confident of His Love and their place in His created Universe. Though naked, Adam exuded confidence and authority. He had named every beast of the field and the Bible had carefully noted that ‘whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof’ (Genesis 2:19). His authority over the earth was absolute; he was second to none except the Almighty, and the best part? He knew it.
Then came the seduction and deception by the serpent at the tree in the center of the garden. The man and his wife both ate of the fruit of the tree, their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked. With one act of disobedience, Adam traded the eternal Glory of God for perishable vanity. He traded divine immortality for human mortality, ordained authority for an acquired state of enslavement and servitude. There was a power transfer in the garden for ‘Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’ (Romans 6:16). The lord of the garden had ceded power and made himself the servant of the serpent, and he knew it.
Genesis 3:10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
God walked in the garden as He had done many times before and called to Adam and his wife; were art thou? God had not changed, neither had the garden, only man had. His focus had changed from God to himself; he stopped lifting his eyes above and refocused on the dirt from which he was made. He became insensitive to the Glory of God’s presence and the assurance of His steadfast love. He could only see his own vulnerability and nakedness so he hid from God. He knew he had sinned and the glory of God departed and in its place, fear ruled his heart. The era of innocence is forever gone and the time of fear begins. Gone was his confidence and assurance of God’s love for him and in its place was the knowledge that he was but dust. For the first time fear enters the world and with it comes a revelation of the nature and progression of sin.
We learn from Bible studies that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. What we are often not told is that sin like many known diseases advances progressively culminating in death. Like those diseases, once started we may be unable to immediately stop the pain, but we can eventually stop the progression and reverse the damage. The sequence of events is first doubt then disobedience followed closely by fear and loss of vision, then a temporary separation or death that may lead to eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. In His mercy, God has provided a means of escape at all but the last of these stages; eternal separation, beyond which there is no return. The provisions that God has instituted to bypass this progression are faith, obedience, repentance and salvation as illustrated in figure 1 below. In God’s plan, it is possible to turn back if we fail at most of these steps. The whole concept of grace is hinged on the availability of these steps by reason of Christ’s sacrifice for us. If however we reject salvation, there is no route of escape beyond that point (Hebrews 2:6).
Figure 1. Natural progression of sin from doubt to death. The alternate choice offered by God to break this progression at every step is shown in black.
Disobedience or lawlessness is the foundation upon which rebellion in any physical or spiritual form is built. It is the first stage of anarchy most often undetected because it is usually initiated under camouflage and subtlety.
When God made the world, he poured His love into man making him in His image and likeness (See my post on begining). Because he is God, the only thing man could offer in return is an undying love manifested through obedience. He gave Adam and Eve the liberty to do or eat anything in the garden except the tree in the midst of the garden. We are not told what was special about the tree and I suspect that the kind of fruit it bore was not even relevant in Gods plan hence we are not given this information. I believe eating from the tree is important primarily because it represents our choice to obey or not. The tree itself was not a “tree of death”, nor was the fruit poisonous in any way. Death came through eating of its fruit because the act represents a conscious decision by Adam to disobey God. And by disobeying God, he made a deliberate choice of rejecting God’s love. In the book of Timothy, the Bible makes it clear that Adam knew what he was doing; he knew eve had disobeyed God and chose to join with eve in rejecting God. Romantic as it may sound, it was inexcusable and in God’s sight still punishable by death. In John 14:21, Christ said he that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. The world cannot see our heart or the love in it, but they can see our obedience through the works that we do. They will read us like a book and we become living witnesses and testimonies of His Grace to the world.
Obedience to God not only reveals Him to the world, but also manifests Him to us. It is a process that further bonds us with Him and brings His presence and Glory in higher measures into our lives. Just as Adam saw Him in the garden, we will see Him and walk with Him. Joshua 22:5 enumerates it better in this order; love God, walk in all His ways, obey His commandments and cleave unto Him. When we obey Him He gives us the power to cleave unto Him by sanctifying or separating us to Himself (Leviticus 20:8). When we are cleaved unto Him, our thoughts, words and actions exude His Grace and life for we are joined to His spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:17 states that whoever is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit. We become a part of Him and He of us, our body becomes the temple of His Presence. How do I know this? From Revelation 3:19-20 He says that as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will COME IN TO him, and will sup with him, and he with me. We are the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). When God stood at Adams door and knocked, the door was not opened instead Adam went to hide. Are you hiding from God’s presence because of shame at your nakedness? It is time to turn, to repent and to open the door to Him. I know it is terrifying, you feel so unworthy of His love and presence. You feel you cannot be forgiven for all you’ve done, the betrayal, the sins, for all the people you’ve hurt along the way. Perhaps you are even afraid that you have committed the unpardonable sin talked about in Matthew 12:31. Let me assure you, the fact that the thought of it worries you is evidence that you have not; for it is God nudging your heart and bidding you come to Him. How am I so sure about this? I have been there; I have experienced His Grace and presence. I have also been in the valley of misery when I thought that all was lost and I despaired for my life and my faith. He constantly knocked on the door and for a while I hid from Him. I neglected the assembly of the brethren and had almost no Christian friends at all, I felt too unworthy to stand among His saints or in His presence. I thought I was lost and surely had no path back to Grace and salvation yet any time I heard His word my heart lit up. He was calling for me in the garden, but I was afraid and I hid because I was naked. Listen friend so long as you can still hear His voice calling out to you; it is not too late to return. He will speak to you through friends, colleagues, ministers even through nature and events around you. Do not turn away or hide from Him. If He rebukes you, it is because He loves you and wants you to come back home to Him.