Two Faces of Fear

We know fear from infancy. Our earliest fear may be fear of abandonment. Later we may fear failure or disappointing someone we love. We sometimes fear for our safety or the safety of others. We fear for our health. We fear for our financial well-being. We fear for our futures. 

Fear is real, and fear is natural. And we have a natural response in flight—running full-force in the opposite direction. For a character in a horror movie, that may mean hiding in the old barn behind the chainsaws. Fear can also paralyze us, preventing us from moving forward or from taking risks. We see both responses in scripture.

Look at Peter’s denial of Jesus after His arrest. 

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”—Matthew 26:69-74

Peter knew the corruption of Roman and Israelite leadership. He knew what kind of punishment likely awaited Jesus and His followers. So he acted out of fear in self-preservation, a decision he lived to regret and one he tried to live down.

We see a similar response from the servant to whom his master entrusted a single talent. His fellow servants took risks that allowed them to double their investment. But this servant was frozen by fear.

Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’”—Matthew 25: 24-25

His fear cost him dearly. 

“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.’”—Matthew 25:26-28

But then we see a very different response from David, the author of many of the Psalms. I’ve been struck in my recent quiet times by how David wrote many of the Psalms at moments when most of us would be wishing for a Depends or blowing up the phones of our closest friends. 

David wrote Psalm 59, for example, “when Saul sent men, and they watched the house in order to kill him.” He lays out his petition before the Lord and closes with praise.

But I will sing of Your power; yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble. To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, my God of mercy.—Psalm 59:16-17

I tried to picture what this looked like. Were David’s men in position, urging David to action while he sat off by himself saying, “Hey, guys, just give me a moment,” as he penned out his petition and praise to the One he knew could deliver him? Would that be my first response in his situation? What about you?

We can’t orchestrate our lives so we can avoid hazards or threats, but we can choose how we will respond. As for me, I hope I will respond with the faith, resolve and praise of David, not by hiding behind the chainsaws or lamenting my lack of Depends.