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Topical Tuesday: Do not be afraid

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 14 Oct 2014

'In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?' (Psalm 56:11).

There is a lot of fear around in conservative evangelical circles at the moment.

Let me be clear. I don’t know a single evangelical who is afraid of homosexuals, let alone ‘hates’ them, so it is not homophobia I’m talking about. I think on the whole that we are sensitive to the issues here, and trying hard to communicate the good news of Jesus our saviour as clearly and as winsomely as we can into the ever-changing culture.

No. It is fear of the future, and fear of man. There is a deep sense of anxiety about our place in the world and our place in the church. We feel:

afraid that our colleges and churches will be closed down, black-listed, marginalised, or hamstrung;

afraid that unless we water down our convictions on various things, and appear more ‘reasonable’, we won’t get ‘jobs’ in the church, and the sacrifices and efforts many of our number have made to pursue that calling will have been wasted;

afraid that though we work exceedingly hard to counter the impression, we will always be seen as ‘extremists’ or ‘fundamentalists’ simply for following with all our hearts and minds what we sincerely believe God teaches;

afraid that there is a conspiracy to trick us into seemingly accepting things that are biblically unacceptable, and that the ‘shared conversations’ on sexuality are essentially ‘sloped conversations’, or ‘manipulated discussions’ designed to dupe us into compromises;

afraid that we are being distracted by the ‘big issues’ and by politics from energetically evangelising our lost and needy nation;

afraid that we’re not making the impact we always hoped and prayed we would;

afraid that ‘something must be done!’ but we are frustratingly powerless to do it;

afraid that unless we do something boisterously radical we will be thought cowards or unfaithful;

afraid that we might be overreacting sometimes to the pressures of our age;

afraid that human nature is so fallen from the glory of God that many of our suspicions and fears are far from groundless.

What is the antidote to fear?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from repeatedly watching Disney with my daughters, it’s that fear will not melt a frozen heart. Only love can thaw what fear turns to ice. Perfect love, sacrificial love, casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

We need to find a way as conservative evangelicals of casting out fear, especially from our interaction with others in the Church. The gospel applies there too. That doesn’t mean becoming naive about those who oppose us, or signing away our convictions in an attempt to pacify them.

But taking our stand on God’s word, we can make a more positive contribution, motivated by something greater than anxiety about the future or fear of what mere people can do to us.

Taking that kind of approach to things is risky and can appear weak or ineffectual. There is always the danger that those who simply grasp at power, or whose deepest fear is obscurity, will try to take advantage (like Prince Hans in Frozen, who appeared so friendly at first). They may resort to force majeure, but as Disney and the Bible both agree, fear does not win in the end.

‘In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid
What can man do to me?’
Psalm 56:10-11

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society.

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