The fall season brings many pleasant sights and sounds as the weather turns cooler, the leaves change, and the earth begins to prepare itself for the coming winter. At the same time, each October, the season is also marked by other, more grisly sights, as a variety of ghoulish and monstrous decorations spring up in yards and windows, marking an annual celebration of fear. Which, when one thinks about it, seems a rather odd thing to be celebrating. Why do people want to celebrate the idea of being afraid of things? Perhaps though, if we understand that what is actually being celebrated is being “safely afraid,” it is not as odd as all that.
People don’t normally truly want to be afraid of things. At the same time, fear is a commonality across the human experience, no matter where or when you live. People are afraid of natural phenomena, political parties, war, disease, death, poverty, and a host of other things beyond their control. Creating make-belief fears and then facing them, and laughing about them, showing oneself that there is nothing to actually be afraid of can be understood as something of a psychological coping mechanism. To put it another way, people don’t celebrate fear on Halloween because they want to be afraid; they celebrate it so as to show themselves there is nothing to actually be afraid of. Yet, even after the holiday has come and gone, and the zombie and werewolf decorations are taken down, the world is still full of all the very real things which people dread. One wonders how effective the celebration is at making us not afraid.
God doesn’t want His children to be afraid, but He teaches a somewhat different route of facing and overcoming that fear. The Scriptures teach us that, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7; ESV).”
This is not to say that God promises to remove all the things that trouble men. War, famine, death, pestilence, corrupt politicians and bad weather will plague both the righteous and the unrighteous. Christians are as likely as anyone else to have unpleasant things happen to them. Christians throughout the ages have, in fact, faced some pretty monstrous things because of the persecution of their faith including torture, rape, fire, sword, starvation and being mauled by wild animals. God didn’t say that these things would not happen. To the contrary, God tells us that, “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12; ESV).” But, concerning these things, or any other of the troubles that might plague us, God simply does not want His children to be afraid of them. He wants that fear conquered through faith. Specifically, through faith in Him.
Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28; ESV).” Paul wrote to the Roman church about the various dangers that might come their way, reminded them, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37; ESV)”
Why such confidence? It is because we believe the promise of Christ, who said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3; ESV)”
The promise of eternal life means that Christians don’t have to be afraid of death if they are with God, because God will be there with them at the crossing from one life to the next, and will be with them after as well. Christians don’t have to worry about how the story of this life unfolds, or be afraid of the events which occur along the way, because when we leave this world, the story is not done, there are an eternity of chapters yet to be written, and in the end the man of faith will overcome and outlast any of the dangers of this life. It is our relationship with God, and our faith in that relationship, which drives away fear.
Because God does not give His children a spirit of fear, but fills them with strength, they can go forward into the world with love and self-control, facing every situation with confidence.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.