The first Fear

I was about to preach on “from fear to faith” last Sunday when someone read from Genesis 3.

They stopped at verse 7 but I read on and realised that the very next verse is the first time fear is mentioned in the bible. Most things of any significance in the bible are found in seed form in Genesis (including Jesus!) and in my prep I had forgotten to trace the origins of fear. Fear comes into man’s life after he turned away from a trusting relationship with God.

Fear is the counterfeit of faith. It is the twisted wreckage of faith after the fall. It is the grotesque, animated undead corpse of faith. A powerful but hideous Frankenstein monster. It acts a lot like faith but it’s rotten and diseased.

Fear and faith always affect our actions because they act as entry points for two very different kingdoms. By faith we can enjoy many of the good things that God has in store for us. In the same way by fear we can experience some of the bad things that Satan would like to happen to us (but may not).

Someone told me a great anagram of fear today: “False Expectations Appearing Real” and that about sums it up. By faith we can experience not just the hope of health but sometimes even the reality of health. In contrast by fear we not only get to “enjoy” ill health before we ever get sick, but living in fear can actually cause us to get sick. When fear strikes, a very real thing, a substance, has come into existence to oppress us.It is more than mind games.

But back to Genesis 3. Adam is afraid because he is naked. There are actually two sorts of fear. One draws us close to God and the other pushes us away. The first would have been present before the fall and has elements of “respect” or “ reverence”. It is a positive healthy fear. But because of sin this holy awe of God is replaced by a negative destructive distancing fear of God. Having a healthy fear of fire or heights is a good thing. It makes us act safely and appropriately around them. However, an unhealthy fear of these things can not only limit our choices and enjoyment but can even make us less safe. Feeling sick, dizzy and weak at the knees is not the most helpful thing to happen to you when you find yourself next to a shear drop.

God asks Adam “who told you that you were naked”. That’s the kind of puzzling question that I know is hugely significant even if I’m not sure why. Why does God ask that? And why does he not wait for an answer? His next question “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat” must flow from God’s train of thought. “Who told you…Oh no you haven’t eaten from that tree have you…”. It’s as if God’s first thought is “someone must have told you” and then his next is “Oh no, you know from experience”. You can almost hear the penny dropping in God’s mind and feel the thump in his chest. Of course he knew it would happen. But this is real. This is the moment. God’s interaction with his world is always genuine. His sovereignty never leads to him having to ‘act’ for out benefit. The moment is  as real for him as it is for us. I don’t understand how he is both sovereign and yet genuinely involved in and relating to his creation in time but he is.

The antidote to fear must be to trust God and press in to his presence. To once again believe what he says and walk with him. That is only possible of course because of what Jesus has done. He hung naked on the cross, carrying our shame, and experiencing the searing separation from his loving heavenly Father. He faced the most fearful thing imaginable so we won’t have to. Now we get to be clothed, not in fig leaves of our own making, but in Jesus’  righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10 (ESV)

The animal skins that God provided for Adam and Eve and that they wrapped around themselves, point forward to a time when our lives would be hidden in Christ through his sacrifice for us.

That’s how come God can say to us “fear not for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).





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