Living in Uncertain and Uncontrollable Times: When to Fear, and Not to Fear

Psalm 23:4 “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You, Lord, are with me.”

In the recent Atlantic article ‘The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why’, an internal medicine doctor described how 40% of her patients had strange rashes on their face, eyes and throat: “They thought they had contracted a novel form of coronavirus. After talking with all of them, I found one thing in common. They’d been overusing bleach in their homes in response to the coronavirus threat. Some were cleaning 3-4 times a day. They were trying to find ways to handle a threat that’s invisible.

They were making things worse in the process. There’s so much we can’t control, so there’s a sense of, ‘If we clean enough, the virus will go away.’” COVID-19 is teaching us that control is an illusion. Many are discovering what fear looks like – being at the mercy of an enemy we cannot see. This fear can cripple many of us who, living in the “Land of Plenty”, no longer think of thriving but instead just surviving.

Can the Bible give us a different perspective on fear? Is there a type of fear that promotes not only good health but an abundant life? Meet King Solomon and the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Written around 900 BC, he details one theme, found in 13 verses I list in numeric order, that are the “how to” practical guide for a wide range of benefits, each of which is defined below in each verse, that promote an abundant life in the midst of even a pandemic.

This theme is “fearing the Lord”. The word for “fear” means “being morally reverent of who the Lord is (not what He does), to the point of being shaken by His holiness and His promise to judge the evilness of sin.

Benefit #1. How to gain knowledge = “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Benefit #2. How to avoid evil = “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride, arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). Benefit #3. How to gain wisdom = “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Benefit #4. How to have a long life = “The fear of the Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Proverbs 10:27).

Benefit #5. How to be rewarded = “He who despises the word will be destroyed, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded” (Proverbs 13:13). Benefit #6. How to avoid the second death = “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to avoid the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27). Benefit #7. How to avoid life’s troubles = “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure with trouble” (Proverbs 15:16).

Benefit #8. How to be an honorable person = “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility” (Proverbs 15:33). Benefit #9. How to keep away from committing evil = “In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6).

Benefit #10. How to live a joyous life, free from evil = “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil” (Proverbs 19:23). Benefit #11. How to live blessed by God = “By humility and fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4). Benefit #12. How to live with real hope beyond this world = “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but in the fear of the Lord continue all day long; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:17-1).

#13. How to live a happy, joyful life = “Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity” (Proverbs 28:14).

But, as in our verse for this week, the Lord reminds us that even when we are walking in the “valley of the shadow of death”, which this virus certainly is, we should not be like those scrubbing their homes 3-4 times a day with bleach. We should fear no evil because, as King David says, Jesus Christ is with us.

The prophet Isaiah gave us this same truth: “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).

As Acts 4:13 confirms, there is a reason why Christians should “not fear”, even in the face of these uncertain and uncontrollable times. It is because we cling to the One who holds our lives in His hands: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John… they realized that they had been with Jesus.”

The Evidence of Faith’s Substance – Article #398