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What Good is Fear?

What good is freedom when you have to keep running from the law to keep it? That’s the conclusion that Clarence David Moore came to in 2015 when he turned himself in after nearly 40 years of running from the law. When the police came to take him in, he said, “I just want to get this behind me. I want to be done.” After escaping from prison three times and living a secret life for more than 30 years, he was done.[1] There may have been short-term benefits for Moore, but in the long run, there was no good in playing the fugitive.

As we continue to think through the topic of fear, it’s worth thinking about what good can come from fear. Specifically, we’re talking about that kind of fear related to terror and the unknown. So, what good is that kind of fear? In the long run, there is no gain, but there may be short-term benefits. Let’s break this down into negative long-term impacts and short-term benefits.

Starting with the obvious, fear of the unknown achieves nothing in the long run. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the related topic of anxiety and asks, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt 6:27). The answer, of course, is no one. Fear may include much activity, but it is not productive in the long run.

As a matter of fact, fear has negative impacts in the long-term. In an earlier post, we talked about how fear affects our whole selves, mind, heart, and body. Your body’s stress response takes a toll on your physical health over time, disrupting sleep, affecting mood, and so on. There is no good in getting wrapped up in fear in the long run when it comes to your health.

Finally, in the long run, a fearful attitude both manifests and reinforces a weak faith. It assumes that God is either not powerful enough to comfort you or not concerned enough. It implies that you are alone in the fight. The more you get wrapped up in fear, the less likely you are to see God as your sovereign Lord who cares for and is concerned with every detail of your life (Matt 6:32-33; Luke 12:7).

So, there is no long-term good in fearing. But, there can be short-term benefit. Let me briefly lay out two for you.

First of all, fear can wake you up to reality. Fear is the response you have when you encounter the reality that you’re not in control. When a global pandemic strikes and you suddenly find yourself fighting an enemy you cannot see, you realize that your safe, comfortable bubble was just an illusion. God can use fear to burst our fake safety bubbles so that we come face-to-face with the reality that we don’t have things under control. So, in the short term, fear wakes us up to reality, pulls back the veil, and reminds us that we live in a fallen world.

Second, and related, fear prompts us to find safety in God. When our eyes are opened to the reality of living in a fallen world, fear ought to prompt us to find safety. Here it is worth noting that fearlessness is not a virtue; it is foolhardiness. Instead, excessive fear is the problem, as noted above. In the short term, as fear wakes us up to reality, we ought to respond by searching for safety, and the only safe harbor amid a fearful storm is our great God:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Ps 4:8), “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” (Ps 18:2). “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1).


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