Are fear and anxiety wrong? The answers we hear are not always clear. They can leave us with a resounding “sort of” or “sometimes,” which does not help people who are already feeling uncertain and less spiritual than others. If you expect that spiritual growth will make you fearless and anxiety-free, then you are implying that fears and anxieties are sins just waiting to be cast off. In response, you are left with two options: perennial low-level guilt or ways to deal with fear on your own, apart from the Lord.
What is clear in Scripture is that we live in a world that has endless threats, and the Lord counters our fear not with calls to repentance, but with comfort. So with further spiritual growth, we expect that faith and fear will be joined to each other rather than fear eradicated. When fears appear, faith is right there next to it. Psalm 56 is a helpful guide to this delicate process.The psalmist puts his fears into words and then immediately speaks of his confidence in God’s care and presence. We speak our fears and our trust at the same time. The extremes of lament meet spiritual confidence, back-and-forth.
Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.
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? (Ps 56:1–4)
Fears are upon him. They are not the imaginations of some distant day. After his declaration of confidence in the Lord, he returns to his overwhelming circumstances.
All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God! (v.5–7)
With fear and faith as conjoined partners, the psalmist then refocuses his eyes on the deeper reality. God remembers even the fitful sleep of his people. And he never merely remembers. When he remembers, he acts. He is pleased to be for you. He is your God.
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me. (v.8–9)
Then he repeats his earlier refrain.
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? (v.10–11)
What can an enemy do? Quite a bit. But no enemy can restrain God from remembering and acting on your behalf. No enemy will ultimately triumph. And even death itself will not keep you from God’s presence and mercy. So as we look for mini-deliverances in daily life and ultimate deliverance and justice to come, we give thanks.
I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life. (v.12–13)
The absence of fear, meanwhile, awaits the age to come.