or something similar is said to be found approximately 365 times in the bible. It seems to be a significant thread throughout the scriptures and yet, beyond face value what is to be made of these two words?
if we come from a legalistic tradition, we might understand these exhortations as commands. Edicts from on high telling us we are not allowed to feel what we feel. Some would have us believe that if we are afraid we are disobedient and lack faith. This (perhaps) well-intentioned religious shaming is not helpful at all, as it does nothing to alleviate fear, and worse still puts us in a place where we need to fake it and stuff all the legitimate fear and anxiety we are feeling deep down inside us.
Have you ever been swimming with an inflatable beach ball? Maybe you have played the game where you try and keep the beach ball submerged beneath the surface of the water. If you have, you will know that it takes a lot of work and sooner or later, you will lose control of it and the beach ball will breach the surface of the water dramatically! So it is with fear when we suppress it!
Denying fear takes a lot of energy, and people often find that the effort combined with the ignored emotion starts to impact or seep into other areas of of life. And given the right circumstances, the right buttons pushed, that fear, like the beach ball can come out in a rather dramatic fashion!
So, ‘Fear not” as a command is neither effective or spiritual. Denial is not a good spiritual practice.
So what are we to make of the bible saying “fear not” some 365 times?
When folks in scripture are encouraged to ‘Fear not’, it is compassionate comfort not a command. The God who loves knows we humans are given to fear, in part because that is the way we are wired - a self-protection mechanism that is key for our species’ survival.
The God who loves meets us where we are at, draws us in close with words of comfort - not to shame or have us deny what we are feeling but, to be honest about what God already knows - we’re afraid.
Judging, spiritualizing and religious shame isn’t what they need - in fact, that makes it worse.
Neuroscience tells us that the part of our brain that monitors our environment for danger is the amygdala - the amygdala when it senses a threat can cause at least one of many different reactions, which might include: fight, flight or freeze. When this part of the brain is full-on (when we are afraid) it is sometimes more difficult to access the frontal cortex where our reasoning and higher thinking resides.
So when the God who loves meets us with compassionate comfort it provides some relief and our lizard brain relents, if even just a bit. By doing so, it makes space for us to access our higher thinking capacities where we can think more clearly about the situation. We can then make better decisions about how best to respond.
‘Fear not’ isn’t a commandment, but an invitation to compassionate engagement with the God who loves.
This comfort response doesn’t ask us to deny the reality of what going on - rather meets us in it, acknowledges it, empathizes with you in it and can go a long way to calm the emotional storm.
Love and compassion brings calm to the storm
so then wisdom and reason can chart the course
When we come alongside others with love and hope to encourage we want to ensure that we address and affirm that people are feeling what they are. With genuine empathy encourage them that they are not alone, with your presence and other ways like praying with them. This will go a long way to bringing comfort and this then will help them to be better able to reason and consider different perspectives.
The view of God as the stern, exacting and aloof deity is so unhelpful and inaccurate. If we humans can learn how to support, be merciful, and empathize with those who struggle, surely a god who is truly good and lovely can do the same and much more.
— Peace to you —