Let’s Fear The Right Things
In the summer of 2021, a 19-year-old woman smashed her car into “the Samuel Lincoln Cottage.” As you might have surmised, Samuel Lincoln was an ancestor of the 16th President. He built this house way back in 1650 in what is now Hingham, Maryland.
The unnamed driver pulled her Audi Q7 off the road, over the curb, across the sidewalk, and into the house. Half of the car smashed into the front parlor before it stopped. Hingham Police issued her a traffic citation for careless driving.
What made the unlucky driver smash into this historic house? According to the driver, a squirrel darted into her lane and, fearing she might hit it, she swerved her car to the right. Fortunately, no harm came to the squirrel and no one was in the “Lincoln Cottage” at the time. The driver came out of the ordeal without injury as well.
Now, I cannot condemn this woman for crashing her car to save a squirrel. You see, I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing in order to avoid hitting squirrels and box turtles. I didn’t smash into any buildings or hurt anyone. But I came close to it. Henceforth, when driving, I must resolve in my heart to do this. I must fear crashing my car and hurting people far more hurting squirrels and box turtles. I owe that to the other occupants of the car.
Prioritizing our fears is something we all must do. Many Nazi leaders sincerely grieved their decisions which enabled the Holocaust. But they feared losing their jobs, getting arrested, and incurring the wrath of their fellow Nazis more than they feared committing crimes against humanity. The paths to atrocity are always paved with decisions to “fear the wrong thing.” We fear offending or disappointing people, so we keep silent in times of moral crisis and give tacit approval to evil. As Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
We need to keep this in mind whenever the Bible commands us to “Fear the LORD” (e.g. Deuteronomy 10:12-22). For God is only telling us that, if we are going to be fearful of anything, then let it be fearing displeasing and disobeying God.
This is what is behind the many commands to fear God. It’s not that God wants us to be afraid or terrified of Him. But our reverence for God should outweigh our fear of everything else in life. Take David, for example, in Psalm 34. David wrote this Psalm following the events recorded in 1 Samuel 20:42 – 21:15. David had been in a panic. On numerous occasions King Saul had tried to kill him – by sending him on suicide missions or by hurling spears at him. So, David fled for his life. David allowed his fear of Saul to drive him to flee the prophet Samuel, lie to the High Priest, put his trust in Goliath’s sword, and finally act like a madman to avoid death at the hand of the Philistines.
Then David hit rock bottom. To save himself from the Philistines he pretended to be crazy, scribbling on the walls and letting drool run down his beard – all in a pathetic effort to evoke pity from his captors.
Finally he cried out to God for help and God delivered him from death. In Psalm 34:4 David confesses, “I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears.” A few verses later, he commands us, “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for there is no want to those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:9). In other words, if we fear anything more than God then it’s going to get us into trouble. Fear God, instead, and trust Him to deliver you from everything that frightens you.
Jesus addressed the same issue in His Sermon on the Mount. He spoke to people who were overly concerned with getting enough food to eat and clothes to wear. Taking care of their needs was an obsession.
But Jesus assured them that God is continually active in caring for the smallest of living organisms. Therefore, He will most certainly give top priority to feeding and clothing those He created in His own image – far above the largest animals. He told us we should, rather, be far more obsessed with doing God’s will and getting in a right relationship with Him than any other earthly concern (Matthew 6:19-33). If we must fear anything, let it be disappointing and displeasing God.
This was the issue with idolatry. God told His people not to fear anything more than Him. This was especially true concerning the pagan gods of Canaan and the surrounding nations. Israel’s great downfall was not that they forsook God entirely. Rather it was that they shared the devotion they owed to God with other gods as well.
You see, the prevailing notion in ancient times was “not to offend” any of the gods, lest they withhold the rain, blight the harvests, and curse the land. Therefore, they believed, it was always best to “play it safe” by offering sacrifices to all the gods, as well as to the LORD. After all, you can use “all the help” you can get, right? This was the philosophy the Israelites fell for.
But God told His people that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and refused to share them with any other deity. For one thing, God viewed His relationship with Israel as that of a marriage, in which both parties must be exclusively devoted to each other (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:14, 20; 31:32; Ezekiel 16:32, 45; Hosea 2:16). For another, it was simply silly to fear retribution from gods who didn’t even exist – except as idols of gold, stone, and wood fashioned by the skill of people. So, then, God tells His people, “do not fear them, for they can do you know harm. Rather, fear the LORD” (Judges 6:10).
Because of their idolatry, Israel suffered destruction at the hands of the Assyrians and were deported to Mesopotamia because of their idolatry. For, the Scripture says, they made the mistake of “fearing other gods” rather than fearing the LORD (2 Kings 17:7, 35, 37). And whenever we fear other things more than God, we are distracted from the right path and we are hindered from obeying God.
Friend, isn’t our obsession with other things and threats a form of idolatry. If a possession (e.g. a car, gaming system, house, etc.) absorbs all our time, doesn’t it compare to an idol we’re devoted to? Yet, we’re supposed to be espoused to Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2) and our obsession must be pleasing Him (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).
How does Jesus feel when we ignore Him and make Him stand at the back of the line while we indulge in every other activity of the day? Must He resort to stern discipline to regain our attention?
And if we are preoccupied with our fears (e.g. of poverty, sickness, disease, political opponents, environmental issues, etc.) isn’t this a form of idolatry as well? Isn’t it a little too much like “trying not to offend” any of the gods, lest we incur their retribution? Just look at our absolute obsession with climate change and Covid-19. It not only occupies every news and media outlet. It possesses our thoughts constantly. And how does that compare with the time and space we give to God? Are we as afraid of offending Him? If placed on a scale, which would outweigh the other – our obsession with worldly fears or our obsession with God?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, Son of God, Savior, and Lord. I will soon stand before Your Judgment Seat to be recompensed for all I have done in this life. Please help me to get my priorities straight, so that I do not major in the minors. Change my heart and my thinking, dear Jesus, so that if I fear anything in this world, it will be the fear of displeasing You and disappointing You. For I know in my heart that, when death and eternity stare me in the face, I will have wished I had worked more heartily and faithfully for You. Help me, Lord, to fear only You. Amen.