A Brief Theology of Fear

In 1508 Michaelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the sistine chapel in Rome. Over the next four years he lay on his back atop a scaffold painting a truly huge image of God, saints and biblical scenes. At over five thousand square feet the painting is so vast that it can’t be viewed as a whole or photographed with a single shot.

Michaelangelo had a grand idea of who God was and yet in all it’s grandeur we know that it can never represent the vastness of God; he painted a great big God and in doing so painted a finite and limited image of God.

We often do the same thing – we paint our own mental image of a great big God and in doing so unintentionally limit what we expect from Him. Fear is one of the subjects that we do this about the most.

How society has viewed and dealt with fear over the centuries has changed massively but as the church we should be aware that God’s word doesn’t change. Society may change its idea of what is truth, but Jesus is truth. Biblical thinking on fear is as true today as it was the day that the prophet, scribe or apostle first wrote it down.

Let’s not limit our thinking on what God can do based on how the world thinks. Paul instructs us on this very topic in his letter to the Romans.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:2

If our mind is renewed then our thinking should come from God, not from society’s present fad or view. Society’s prevailing take on fear is to manage it, but God’s wants to remove it.

I recently saw a quote that said: “God doesn’t tell us not to feel fear. He does tell us not to give in to it.” Really? God doesn’t tell us not to fear? I don’t recognise the God described in that sentence; God is constantly telling us not to be afraid.

We can realised that God can act in-spite of our fears and start to believe that is what He wants to do. We paint a finite image of an infinite God and suddenly we sleep walk into the idea that God wants us to simply feel their fear and do it anyway.

Yes, God can work in us and through us even when we’re afraid, but I don’t believe that is what He wants to do; working in spite of our fear was never God’s perfect plan for our lives, God’s plan is for us not to fear. He wants to go further than a course in fear management and deal with our fears completely.

The simple fact is that God does tell us not to fear. He repeats this statement literally hundreds of times in the bible, lest we didn’t hear it. Do not fear, do not be dismayed, do not worry, do not be anxious, do not be frightened, take heart!

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

God does not want us to feel our fear and do it anyway, He wants to drop kick our fear so far away that even if we wanted to find it again we could not.

If sin is anything that goes against God’s best for our lives then, according to the bible, God’s will for our fear is to separate it as far as the east is from the west. East and west here isn’t the distance between Newcastle and Carlisle, or even New York and San Fransisco, for the God who created the entire universe east and west is literally the extreme end of both. It’s an unimaginable, infinite, eternal distance.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
– Psalm 103:12 (ESV)

Does writing this mean that I am a fearless person? No, it does not. I have fears that I have not yet overcome and yes, God can and does work even though I feel fear. I have absolute confidence however that God’s desire is not for any of us to live with fears all of our life but rather that they would fall from us as we grow closer to Him.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
– 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

So what does this look like? How do we go from bound in our fears to free? It’s all about focus. If we look at that verse in Isaiah 41 we see that God tells us not to fear because of who He is and what He will do. He will strengthen, help and uphold us with His righteous hand.

If we try and rely on our own selves to become fearless then you know what? We’re going to fail. All the self help books in the world can’t remove your fear, though they may help you manage it better, only God can take it away. If we could do things through our own steam, where would be the need for a saviour? It’s putting our focus and trust on God’s love that removes fear.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
– 1 John 4:18 (ESV)

As we grow in God’s love we find that our fear is replaced by trust that we can rely on His love in any and all circumstances. We’re human and sometimes we fall and we fear and we succumb to the frailties of our emotions but should not accept the idea that in some way God wants us to just manage our fears; God wants us to overcome fear completely and to walk in His peace and love.

Let’s be careful not to paint an image in our minds of God wanting to do one thing when the truth is that His will for us is to do so much more. If we look at all the bible has to say on fear the overriding message isn’t to be fearful and get on with it; it’s not to fear.

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Picture by Michaelangelo; from the cieling of Sistine Chapel, the Vatican.


  • andrea says:

    Thanks for writing this. You are so right about the verse in Isaiah – overcoming fear is all about looking at the greatness of the God who saves us and not at our fears and circumstances. He is bigger.

  • Peter J says:

    Hi Andrea! Thanks for your comment, I am so glad that you found the post helpful. He is so much bigger than all of our problems and when we get that fact in perspective, things change.

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