Old guys like me might remember a theological comment on the human condition heard over the radio in 1967. A group called “The Youngbloods” offered the following assessment of mankind in their song “Come Together”: “Love is but a song we sing. Fear’s the way we die.” They might have gone further, for fear is not only the way we die, but also the way we live. We were created in a world in which fear found no place, but we spoiled that soon enough when we disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. After that, when God came into the garden which was our home for His customary time of fellowship with us, we hid from Him. When God called out to us we responded, “I heard the sound of You in the garden and I was afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Meeting Him was once our joy and delight, the beating heart of our existence, but now the prospect of meeting Him filled us with fear. And we have been afraid ever since—afraid of becoming sick, afraid of becoming poor, afraid of pain, afraid of loss, and accident, and war, and violence. Afraid of dying. We spend our entire lives being afraid and fleeing from the fate we know will overtake us in the end anyway.
Not surprisingly, then, the first word God says to us in Christ is “fear not.” It was among Gabriel’s first words to the Holy Virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:30). It was the first word said by the angels to the shepherds as they trembled in the fields (Luke 2:10). It is among the many saving words that Christ speaks to us: “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christ calls us to live fearlessly in this world.
We find this call scattered throughout Christ’s teaching. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:25f).
In this word we find the key to fearless living, and using this key means doing three things.
1. We must recalibrate our ideas of what it is that we actually need. The world constantly bombards us with advertising, so that we are submerged in a culture of affluence and covetousness, hammered by urgent and effective assertions that we cannot possibly be content unless we have the latest gadget, or fanciest holiday, or the newest car. That is, we are constantly bombarded with lies. It is not true, as the bumper sticker says, that he who has the most toys when he dies wins. What is true is that he who has the most toys when he dies, still dies! The path of life and wisdom consists of becoming deaf to this ceaseless barrage of lies, and finding contentment elsewhere than in an endless round of acquisition. Rather than listen to the advertisers who simply want our money, let us listen to Saint Paul, who simply wants our salvation: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). The apostle, of course, is an advertiser’s nightmare, and the thing that said advertiser fears the most: a person immune to the siren call of the world. To live fearlessly, we must know the difference between what we really need and what we only imagine we need.
2. We must look to God to supply what we really need. He will surely supply it, but this supply does not come automatically, simply because we were once baptized and occasionally go to church. Rather, it comes as we walk with Him and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. God will fill our hands, but only if we first empty them of worldly things and hold them up to Him with love and expectation. And this is not because God is playing some kind of game, or using what we need as a bribe to gain our love. It is because our eternal welfare and happiness, both in this age and in the age to come, depend upon loving Him. Man is a machine that runs on God the same way that a car runs on gasoline, and we must learn that loving Him is the only way to true and eternal happiness. This is what the Scripture means when it tells us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4).
3. We must take account of the age to come. We can live fearlessly, and not fear death, but that is only because death itself will be slain when Christ returns, and when this age gives place to the age to come. In this age, everything eventually slows, and sickens, and falters, and dies. In this age, all ends in dust. This is the decree of God (Genesis 3:19), and we may not evade it. But in Christ, death itself will die—indeed, at the Cross and the empty Tomb it was mortally wounded and abolished already, and now we who love Christ need fear death no longer. The Gospel bids us take the long view, and look not only to earthly realities, but also to heavenly ones. Eventually (to quote a western mystic), “All will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well.” But that triumph awaits the Lord’s Coming—and so, therefore, do we. Until then, we can live fearlessly in this world. For us, fear is not how we die. For us, joy is how we die, for death has been trampled down, and the moment of death is but the door into the presence of Christ.
And so, we do not need to be afraid of anything. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.