Sometimes we envision the battle of fear vs. faith as if it were a boxing match. In our minds, fear and faith circle each other, throwing punches and dodging blows. If only our faith were better-trained, more muscular, or lighter on its feet, the match would be ours. Victory would be sure if we could just believe more, pray more, trust more.
Why, then, do our fears still seem so powerful?
The painful reality is that most of us live with fear of one kind or another. Some of us fear for our health or well-being. Others of us worry for our children or grandchildren. Sometimes we fear heights or snakes or storms or strange noises in the dark.
However, many of our fears cannot be put into one, clearly-labelled box. Instead, they creep into our lives as a vague, unrelenting anxiety.
This kind of fear doesn’t attack from the front; it lingers in the shadows. It heightens our blood pressure and makes us feel restless and unsettled. It whispers terrible possibilities, and anticipates problems, failures, suffering, or loss. This kind of fear can paralyze us and alienate us even from those we love.
Fears like these seem so strong. How can faith ever win the fight?
How Does Faith Beat Fear?
This is where the image of a boxing match breaks down. Faith doesn’t fight fear on its own.
Faith turns and runs.
Yes. Faith runs! It runs from whatever it is that we fear, straight into the arms of our Heavenly Father. Faith never fights alone. It never stands on its own strength.
We don’t circle the boxing ring pitting the power of our own beliefs or feelings against the things we fear. We hightail it to the Lord, our “rock” and “fortress” and “deliverer” who is our refuge (Psalm 18:2). Faith doesn’t rely on its own muscle. It takes to its feet.
A Mighty Warrior Who Knew How to Run
David might have been a fierce warrior and a powerful king, but he knew when to skedaddle to someone greater than himself for help. In many of the psalms, we hear David calling to God for rescue and for refuge. He prays for protection and for strength. He flees to the Lord, singing as he runs.
Psalm 18 is one of these songs. It begins with praise,
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my god, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies. (18:1-3 ESV)
This is faith at its firmest. David’s confidence is unassailable. Notice that he does not praise the strength of his own faith. He praises the strength of the Lord. He is sure of God’s strength because he has depended upon it and found it to be reliable.
A God Who Knows How to Rescue
In the following verses, David gives us a bit of the backstory behind this song (which we find in detail in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel).
The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears…
He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (18:4-6, 16-19 ESV)
David ran to the Lord choking on fear and dragging the chains of death behind him. David’s enemies had driven him to the end of his own strength and resources. In his “distress”—in utter desperation—David called to God for help, and God listened. God pulled David from danger and brought him to safety in a “broad place.” This wasn’t just a reprieve from battle behind the muddy wall of a trench. David is transported to open ground with no enemy in sight.
From this refuge, David marvels that God saved him out of sheer delight! David fled to God with nothing to offer except his own desperate need, and God delighted in him. God is pleased to rescue those who run to him in faith.
What Is Faith?
One of the most well-known definitions of faith comes from the book of Hebrews where we are told that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV). In other words, having faith means we are convinced that there is more to reality than the seeable, touchable things of this world. But faith doesn’t just believe intellectually in an unseen reality; faith places all of its hope in that greater reality.
When Christians see the phrase “fear vs. ______”, we automatically insert “faith” into the blank. Hebrews points us in a different direction by suggesting that the opponent of fear is actually hope. We oppose fear by hoping in something greater and more permanent and more sure than all of the things we care about in this physical world.
Our fears can be usually be boiled down to one overarching fear—a fear of loss. We are anxious that we will lose something that is precious to us, whether our reputation, our sense of control, comfort, health, prosperity and position, opportunities, loved ones, or life itself. We are frail creatures, constantly aware of our vulnerability.
Fear tells us to cling to our treasures, bury them in the basement, and lock the front door. Faith tells us to open our hands, lay out our valuables, and unlock our doors because our greatest treasure is completely secure. It is something we can never lose.
What Is Our Hope?
God’s Word assures us that the life of the Christian is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV). When Christ’s love is our greatest treasure, we no longer have reason to fear because absolutely nothing can take that away.
All of the things we love and treasure in this life pale in comparison to the future that awaits us in Christ. Jesus will return to bring his people home. Sorrow will end; death will be no more; and fear will be completely forgotten. Our hope for this future is sure.
Christians are not immune to danger and suffering. We still face loss in this life, but we are never without hope. The person who has trusted in Jesus Christ and turned to him for salvation is able to say “Even if the worst happens, I am safe in Christ!”
Fleeing from fear to God is an act of hope. In a flood, we look for a hill. In a storm, we look for a shelter. When we run to God, we are declaring that Christ alone is our salvation. He alone is worthy of our trust and our hope. We aren’t just running from danger. We are running to Christ. And he is more to us than anything else we might lose.
Fear Is the Servant of Faith
If all of this is true, then fear is not the opponent of faith; it is the servant of faith. A right response to fear drives us to God and reminds us that God’s love is more to us than all the things we value on earth. Those of us who struggle with fear or anxiety have a thread around our finger. Every time we feel its rub we have an opportunity to run to God again and to find him faithful.
Don’t pit the strength of your belief against the power of your fears as if you are in a spiritual boxing ring. Instead, prepare to sprint to God in faith and to find refuge in him. As we take refuge in God, we will discover that he is even more than a place of safety. He is our greatest treasure, and his love is something that we will never lose.