In ancient days, the sea was perceived as the ultimate untamed beast. The wild oceans and seas were turbulent, they were uncontrollable, and they were sometimes terrifying…. What am I saying? They are still these things!
Today, where I live, people are much quicker to think of these kinds of terrors in relation to a storm rather than the seas or oceans. Maybe it’s because I live pretty far away from any coastline, but the great untamed beast is a storm-front more than the sea in my stomping ground.
At any rate, there always seems to be something which embodies our fears, and storms do a good job of exposing our utter helplessness on the grand stage of life. However, I believe that the storm itself is not what causes our fear. Instead, the storm is that circumstance, that experience, which brings our fears of other things to a climactic head. Keep in mind, though, the “storm” may also be a metaphor for a host of circumstantial fears; you may feel free to insert your particular experience for the best application.
God once spoke to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, rebuking them for fearing the wrong thing. God said His people should have feared Him and not their circumstances – such as the roaring sea.
He said, “Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it” (Jeremiah 5:22).
God basically told the people that they should fear Him more than they fear the embodiment of their worst fears – the sea. God did not equivocate, but I am using the word “fear” in two different senses here. On the one hand, we fear or feel horror at the perception of ominous circumstances; on the other hand, we are to fear or have a reverent respect for God as the all-powerful sovereign.
With this in mind, allow me to outline three false assumptions which stimulate us to fear (horror) and the healthy fear (reverent respect) we ought to have in its place.
First, you may imagine that the storm – your fear-inducing circumstance – has no driver.
This is a common thought among modern western people. We have become so familiar with the scientific language of a materialistic worldview that we do not notice the utterly anti-biblical nature of such thinking. The wind and the waves, the sun and the moon, the rain and the drought all obey the command of God. While we may observe material causes for such things, and we may also see patterns that help us make sense of the world around us, God is the providential sovereign over it all. He upholds the universe by the word of His mouth (Heb. 1:3), and there is not so much as a single rogue molecule. It is God we should fear (reverently respect), for the storm is fully under His control.
Second, you may assume that the driver of your fear-inducing circumstance is a vengeful barbarian.
This is less common among non-Christians (ironically), but Christians who take their own sinful rebellion seriously are often plagued by incredible fear (horror). Christians sometimes assume that the God, who controls the wind and the waves, has no patience for their remaining disobedience. The rest they once enjoyed in Christ becomes elusive, and their anxiety rises in anticipation of God’s judgment. However, God has revealed Himself as a good and gracious King and not a vengeful barbarian. He is patient with rebels and gentle with the contrite. It is His loving kindness that is meant to lead sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4). We should fear God (reverent respect), but if we trust and love Christ, we should not live in horror at His judgment. There is no judgment coming to those in Christ Jesus.
Third, you may presume upon your own works as your refuge and safety, forgetting the work of Christ.
This one is related to the one above, but I thought it worth mentioning at greater length and in more specific detail. Of course, the character of God – that He is good and kind not hateful and spiteful – is the place to begin. And yet, there is also a very real tendency among Christians to move from trusting Christ toward trusting themselves as their faith-journey continues on. While Christians are (by definition) those who trust Christ and not themselves, the ongoing life of Christward pursuit produces exasperating humiliation for those who really give it a try. The thorough knowledge of remaining sinful desires, the continuation of divided affections, and the frequent failure to live as faithfully as you truly want to live can send a Christian right into fear (horror).
But, take heart Christian! If you feel such a weight concerning your sin, then this is the grace of God! God certainly does not want you to remain fearful (in horror), but He does want you to come to the end of yourself. He wants you to fear Him (reverent respect), and know that His promise to utterly cleanse you and renew you is sure. God want you to throw away your ridiculous notions of self-sufficiency and press into Him until you fearfully trust nothing but Him!
The Bible tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). I believe this is true, and I believe that the fear of God is the beginning of true freedom from all fear.
May God make us to fear Him, and may we grow increasingly free from the fear of all else.