My four-year-old grandson is nearly fearless. He launches himself at you—or off the couch—with all the reckless abandon of someone who still doesn’t quite understand the physics of the world or such fundamental concepts as gravity and the effects of sudden, forced stops on the human body. But he’s learning. And we’re trying to educate him about these things without him having to experience too much injury.
I said he was nearly fearless. Earlier this year he accidentally slammed his own little finger in the pantry door. My daughter heard him screaming and found him standing bewildered in a pool of his own blood, dripping from his finger. Fast-forward through the trip to the emergency room and the subsequent sedation surgery to rebuild his little finger, and the weeks of his hand being bandaged and re-bandaged repeatedly. He really came through it all like a little trooper, and his finger has completely healed so you’d never know it had happened. But he is a different little boy than he used to be.
I was watching a cartoon with him not long ago. I think it was Tangled. We watched it for a while, then suddenly he turned it off. I said, “Don’t you want to watch this anymore?” And he looked up at me so seriously and said, “I don’t like it when he hurts his hand.” Apparently one of the characters injures his hand in some way. My daughter told me that he now turns his head or simply turns off programs that depict any kind of injury, even to a cartoon character. It reminds him too much of what happened to him.
My grandson has discovered that there is pain in the world. And most often the experience of pain is followed by fear.
It has often been observed that the young think they’re indestructible. That isn’t true of all young people. There are too many who experience too much pain and loss too early in life. They know all too well that there is pain in life, and they know the fear it brings. Our desire for all of them is that they would know as little as possible of the hurts of life, and keep believing they are indestructible for as long as possible.
You don’t have to always experience pain yourself for it to make you afraid. Watching someone you know and love experience pain in some ways is even worse than experiencing it yourself. I’ve always found it very hard to bury a pal. And the older you get, and the more friends you have, and the more your family grows, you find that there are more reasons to fear. You don’t want any of them to experience pain. You don’t want any of them to be afraid. And that can sometimes make you feel afraid for them.
I don’t want to take the time here to enumerate the too-many things in the news, on a local, national, and global level, that can disturb your sleep and keep you laying awake at night. We all know what they are already. (Except our kids. And watching the news is another thing I hope they can postpone as long as possible.) What I’ve just been telling you is what we all already know, what we all already experience from day to day.
This must be why the command “Fear not!” or its equivalent appears 365 times in the Bible. The God who made us knows we live in a broken world, full of broken people who do broken things to each other. This brokenness is found inside of each one of us, too. It’s called “sin.” And God knows how much we struggle with fear because of it.
I would like to tell you that if you become a believer in Jesus, you will never experience pain or fear again. But I can’t tell you that. I’d be lying if I did.
The excellent television series The Chosen portrays the events of the Gospels through the eyes of those who encountered Jesus. The writers creatively imagine what the backstory of each character in the Gospels might have been. And they imagine what other conversations Jesus and the disciples might have had. Not to add to Scripture, but to put the words of Jesus into a very relatable context. In one scene, Jesus tells the family of a man He is about to heal, “In this world, bones will still break. Hearts will still break.” Then he explains to them that he is building a kingdom that is not of this world. The Gospels never record Jesus saying that, but that truth is taught all through the Bible. As long as we are in this world, bones will still break, and hearts will still break. And we will still need to hear God’s “Fear not!” over and over again.
Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” D. L. Moody used to say that the promises of God are gates into His Presence. Then he said, “I can’t use the gate of Psalm 56:4 very often. I’m not very good at trusting and not being afraid. But I use the gate of Psalm 56:3 all the time: ‘When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.’ That gate I use often.” Amen, Brother Moody! Me, too.
When I find myself awake in the night with “all the anxious fears that find me, surround me and bind me” (as Fernando Ortega so beautifully sings in the song Jesus, King of Angels), I find the most comfort in calling the name of Jesus out loud—even in a whisper—and in repeating the words of Scripture to myself. In fact, I often find that repeating the Lord’s Prayer will help me fall back to sleep. I’ll begin reciting it: “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…”. And I find that I often drift off before I get through the whole thing. Then I realize I’ve dozed, and I start it again. Sometimes I repeat it several times before I get through the entire prayer. Sometimes I don’t get through the whole thing at all. I don’t think the Lord Jesus minds me going to sleep in the middle of something He said. Didn’t you love it when one of your small children fell asleep to the sound of your voice?
Let me close with another one of God’s wonderful promises to answer our fears. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So, there’s two of God’s “Fear not!” promises. Your time and mine could be worse spent than in looking up the other 363. It would do us a whole lot more good than another evening watching the news.
Soli Deo Gloria!