Of all human emotions, fear is the most debilitating, the most immobilizing, and the most detrimental to faith and our life together. In the Bible the opposite of faith is not unbelief, but fear. In the garden, Adam confessed his fear as God approached him: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Gen. 3.10). From the beginning then fear has been a reality in our lives.
So God reminds his children frequently not to be afraid.
With Egyptian soldiers pressing behind and the sea blocking the path in front, Moses calls to the people:
Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today… The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Ex. 14.13, 14).
After the giving of the Ten Commandments, Moses narrates:
When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Ex. 20.18-21)
Despite God’s admonition, fear dominates the people of God throughout the Bible, “Don’t be afraid.” Unhealthy fear of God, as opposed to respect, increases the distance we feel between God and us. Notice in the passage above how the people “stayed at a distance.” This is not merely a reference of physical distance; it refers to a spiritual reality as well.
In the Gospel of Mark, people who witnessed Jesus will either respond to him with awe and amazement (1.22, 27; 2.12; 5.20, et. al.) or in fear (4.40; 5.15, 33, 36; et. al.). Very often it is Jesus’ disciples who are afraid. In fear they all abandoned Jesus (14.50). Both Peter and later the women, who show more courage then the men, view Jesus “from a distance” (14.54; 15.40), just as the Israelites had done years before when they found the presence of God too much for them.
Yet, God continues to invite us to come near to him and not be afraid. So let’s approach our God with confidence.