By Larry Cook
As American Christians, our lives have changed over the years, and it seems that they will continue to change as events in the world around us more threatening with each new report of terrorism.
By its very definition, terrorism is intended to provoke fear in the minds of its victims. And beyond the acts themselves, we are often further provoked to a fearful state by our government and the media.
Chapman University published The Chapman University Survey of American Fears, Wave 2 (2015), which they say “provides an unprecedented look into the fears of the average American.”
The survey asked respondents to rate their level of fear about eighty-eight different fears. The top ten are shown on this graphic.
What should be the Christian’s response to questions about our fear of things such as terrorist attacks, running out of money in the future, pandemic, or any of the other eight-eight fears listed on the survey?
1 Samuel 17 tells the story of two possible responses to a fearful situation. Taking place during a battle between Israel and the Philistines, it paints a picture of a Philistine soldier, great in stature and might, who challenged the men of Israel to find one man from their ranks to come forward and fight with him one-on-one.
1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. 2 And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. 3 And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. 7 The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. 8 He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
Ultimately, there was found not one Israelite who could face the fear which this Philistine created. Beyond that, we are told that they were, “greatly afraid.” Other translations describe their condition as, “terrified” and “deeply shaken.” One can’t help but visualize these men cowering down in the hope that they would not be called upon by their captain as the one who would face this Goliath.
Thus we have a portrait of one possible response to a fearful thing, in this case an opposing soldier of great size and strength.
Now David, a shepherd and the youngest son of Jesse, did not join his three brothers who served under King Saul and against the Philistines. But during the time of this battle, when Goliath was challenging the men of Israel, he was sent to the camp with supplies.
After his arrival on the battlefield, and upon hearing the challenge put forth by Goliath, David asked the men of Israel, “…who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
David realized that the sovereign God of Israel was in control of the situation, and that if anyone should be fearful it was Goliath for attempting to defy the armies of this living God.
After convincing King Saul that he was capable of facing Goliath, 1 Samuel 17 describes the encounter as follows:
40 Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
41 And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.43 And the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.” 45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth,that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”
48 When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on his forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.
50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it. When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 52
Scripture reveals not the slightest hint that David experienced fear. In fact, David met the giant’s threat with a threat of his own. But David’s trust and confidence was not in size nor in armor. He went forth to meet the giant in the strength of almighty God and proclaimed to the Philistine as much.
It seems that, in David’s mind, the outcome was never in question. David took to heart the admonition in Deuteronomy 3:22, which says, “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.”
And so what does this story inform us about how we should deal with fearful events in this life?
We have two choices. We can choose to narrow our perspective to this world and focus on the harm that might come to our flesh. Or we can remember that our God is sovereign over all things.
Job 5:22 tells us that destruction and devastation are not stir up fear in God’s people. “At destruction and famine you shall laugh, and shall not fear the beasts of the earth.”
Gill comments that by laugh, what is intended is that through faith the believer shall trust in God’s provision for protection and sustenance.
At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh,…. Not deride and despise them, and make a jest of them; for good men have a reverence and awe of the righteous judgments of God upon them, when they are in the world, Psalm 119:120; but the sense is, that such shall reckon themselves safe and secure amidst such calamities, provision being made for their protection and sustenance; and be cheerful and comfortable, putting their trust and confidence in the Lord
Thus it should be clear to those who would follow Christ that we should meet the trials of this day, whether “natural” or man-made, with a calm resolve that our times truly are in the hands of a sovereign God.
In Part 2, we will consider with interest the fact that the fear of God is not included in Chapman University’s list of fears.
© The Christian’s Report, 2016