Volume 48 | Number 2 | March–April 2020

Inglés Español

Fear of the Future’s Unknown

By Dr. H. T. Spence

Fear is one of the great powers that potentially can obsess and control our thought life. The concept of fear begins in the mind as one’s thought life observes and reacts to circumstances of life. Fear may even arise by musing on circumstances that may not exist at the present time; however, these circumstances may have been real in the past or potentially may become real in the future. Fear is a mental feeling or an emotion prompted by a thought. A person who fears something does not want it to happen; knowing its inevitability, he dreads the darkness and pain surrounding the contemplation of it. The fear response comes from sensing danger that may surround a coming circumstance. Perhaps in the natural understanding, fear is the body’s way of protecting itself from confronting situations that may be dangerous.

The Beginning of Fear

Our present-day word fear comes from an old English word fere. Its earliest meaning (c. 700s) was the concept of “danger or peril.” Not until the 1300s did this word begin to speak of the actual feeling of fear. Did God in His great creation of the various complexities of man create fear as part of the temperament and emotional makeup of man? Or was fear the result of the Fall?

There seemed to be no fear expressed from Eve as she spoke with the serpent. However, the emotion of fear is expressed from the first couple after Adam sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. In the immediate aftermath of their sin, “the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Gen. 3:7). Their first fallen thoughts were of themselves—not thoughts of crying out to God. Their immediate thoughts were to cover themselves; they hurried to sew fig leaves together covering themselves from each other’s gaze. Perhaps this tree happened to be the nearest available tree to draw from for the manufacturing of an apron. The Hebrew word for apron is rooted in the meaning “to gird oneself,” or some sort of a girdle. It is evident that the first noticeable effect of their disobedience was shame. For both were equally guilty, and (it is interesting to note) they both experienced the same guilt at the same time.

Is this not one of the saddest anticlimaxes of history? The serpent’s words no doubt had built up a great anticipation within Eve, unto whom Adam eventually yielded. They partook of the forbidden fruit expecting wonderful results; instead they received a growing sense of shame. For the first time they had knowledge of good and evil. They were experiencing a conscience, yea, a guilty conscience. God permitted them to experience this shame. Furthermore, their sense of shame prompted them to cover that portion of the body which is identified with human procreation. Did they discern that their sin of disobedience would contaminate the very fountain and source of human life?

Amidst their shame, God came down in the “cool of the day” (the breeze of the day, perhaps the evening time). Adam and Eve hearing the voice of the Lord God endeavored to hide themselves from their Creator. When the Lord called out to Adam, we read of fear for the first time in the Bible: “I was afraid and hid myself.” In Genesis 3:10 Adam says, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” The very first words of a fallen man are found in this verse. It is clear that sin has already influenced his talk of half-truth, evasiveness, and even an attempt to deceive God. The only true words found in his declaration to God are “I was afraid.”

Fear first appears in created man as a result of falling away from God. Although Adam did not fully own his guilt, in effect he confessed it by owning his shame and fear in the matter. In contrast to Adam, mankind today knows no fear or shame for its sins against God. Since the fall of man, fear has been an emotional power either harnessed or unleashed through the power of the human thought life.

Our Present Hour of Fear

History has brought us into an unprecedented hour of the greatest crisis of fear that the global world has ever known. All other circumstances and crises have been local or national. However, we have been told by the liberals and the news media that this coronavirus could annihilate the planet Earth. Both the liberals/socialists and the media have banded together to intentionally instill fear, feeding our cry for the government to take over our lives and do whatever is necessary to alleviate this virus problem. For they have declared this to be far worse than “global warming,” or “climate change.” In fact, many are claiming that the virus is because of global warming.

The future spreading of this virus is still unknown as it continues in its path of volatile sickness and death. We dare not underestimate the effect of such a virus upon humanity. But potentially what could be worse than the virus itself is that we may tend to be plagued by thoughts of fear to a point of hysteria. When a society is pressed into fear, their mind is vulnerable to absolute control by powers that claim an answer to alleviate that fear. As a Christian I must candidly ask myself the questions, “Do I believe that God is over everything?” “Do I believe that everything is in His plan and power, including anything that is prompted by man or the Devil?” We must have present faith and hope in Him for our present and future as well as the future of this planet.

Prompted by such present global distress, this crucial hour could distress a Christian’s thought life. Concerning the context of faith and hope, a potential problem is discouragement—a loss of confidence in God, in His providence, and in the promises of the Word of God. Such discouragement can affect how we live as well as our faith and trust in God.

Discouragement is the first step away from sound thinking. Discouragement means a loss of confidence. Although discouragement may also be considered a “disenchantment of self,” it is also a momentary or temporary loss of confidence in God, His Word, His ability, and His providence in a crisis hour. If discouragement is not properly addressed, it may lead into depression, entering a deeper, darker state of thought life. Depression is the loss of the sight of God and hope. Though it may not lose consciousness of God, it does lose trust in Him. Depression concludes that God is unable to help in a particular matter. It is when the thought life loses sight and hope of one’s self in God.

This spiritual depression is readily seen in Psalm 42 where there is a loss of sight for God and hope for the life:

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance (Ps. 42:5).

In such times of thought, one must speak to himself with words that pull the thought life out of the mood of darkness. Do not allow the words of depression to fill the thought life.

There is also the example of Elijah the prophet. God through Elijah had a monumental victory over the 450 pagan priests of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). The prophet then put to death all the false prophets, and Israel’s heart turned back to worshiping the true God. But within twenty-four hours, Jezebel the wife of King Ahab (who had witnessed the fire fall from heaven and the demise of the prophets of Baal), sent word to Elijah guaranteeing that she would kill him within a day. When the prophet heard the threat (even after the wondrous miracle of Mt. Carmel), he panicked, and fear overtook him as he ran for his life. Traveling to Mount Horeb, he lamented to God in a state of spiritual depression:

But he went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a tree: and he requested that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers (1 Kings 19:4).

How sad that the prophet prayed such a prayer. For it was not in God’s plan for him to die—in God’s will Elijah would be translated from the earth alive!

But how does a Christian’s soul fall into such a condition? We cannot reason that it is simply the Devil’s singular work, though he does perhaps initiate such a spiritual state of mind with projected thoughts. Sometimes the Christian himself initiates this frame of mind, and then it is strengthened by the Devil. We must remember that the Devil is relentless, in that he does not cease trying to destroy the Christian’s mind and heart for God. He always endeavors to discredit the work of God in the believer. The Devil knows the power of grace and the transforming power of redemption. But he does everything he can to destroy that work. He will do whatever it takes to mar and ruin the work of God in the Christian’s life. If he cannot keep us from becoming a Christian, he will do everything he can to bring us spiritually down after we become a Christian. He ever seeks to steal away our joy, our peace, and our trust in God’s Word.

The Devil has witnessed throughout history the power of God within men and women who have placed their complete and unshakable trust in the Almighty, who have overcome the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But he has also observed myriads of Christians who have fallen and who have never come to the victory that God could and would provide for them. From one perspective Redemption is a greater work than creation (and especially when we consider the way in which God achieved it through the great miracle of the incarnation and the immeasurable death of Christ on the cross). Therefore, the Devil desires to discredit the purpose of Christ in a believer’s life, to discourage the life, to depress the mind, and to cause the Christian to doubt all that God has done for him. He wants us to live in a way that gives the impression of being discouraged, depressed, burdened, and miserable.

How does he do this? Such provoking of thoughts appears in a variety of contexts. The Devil may endeavor to bring us to a state of discouragement or even depression by getting us to concentrate our sight upon our past so that by dwelling on the past we are cast down. Or, if he cannot cause discouragement concerning our past, he draws us to look to the future of our personal life and convinces us of the impossibility of living for God in the light of everything we will have to face. Or, he may create a scenario of earthly powers that we think will be impossible to face. It reminds us of the words of the Lord to Jeremiah again when the prophet complained how difficult it became for him to stand against the enemy he faced (Jer. 12:5).

Even in this crucial hour, when both government and news media are speaking of what we may have to face, are we as Christians embracing fear of the present and future for ourselves and for our family? Are we living in fear of what “could” happen? Yes, we could have victory over the past; it could be settled with a faith assuring the soul that all is well with God about my past. But, it may be that our view of the future brings little hope as to what might happen!

Why does such darkness enter a Christian’s life? What are the reasons one gives for fear of the future? What prompts the soul to be given to much talk about the fear of certain potential events?

What Causes the Christian to Fear?

Perhaps we must begin where we are as a human being. Sometimes a tendency to fear is found in our temperament and disposition, often influenced by the family from which we came. Yet no two people are exactly the same, not even children born in the same family. We have our own particular characteristics, our virtues, our failures, and our weaknesses. As we are born into the world, we are born into a family, or if given up for adoption we come to live among others. The molding of the self is a combination of influences from within, from our circumstances, and from the home in which our parents viewed the circumstances of life. We may think becoming a Christian changes all of this, but it does not. Although our past sins are forgiven and Christ lives within, we are the same self after the New Birth. We may do the same things as others, but we do them differently. Even within a family there may be those whose proclivity is to be nervous or apprehensive about facing life. Some may be frightened by certain situations and circumstances, while others tend to view it from an easier perspective. Some can converse or even witness to others in an easy fashion, while others find it more difficult.

But there is the need of God for our difficulties, a greater consciousness of our need through Him. Some are afraid of failure because of the constant thoughts that flood their mind as they think more on the deficiencies of self. Constant thought of one’s deficiencies can become a continued oppression. There may be those who are hesitant to call themselves Christians, or respond, “I hope I am saved,” simply because of the general fear and apprehensiveness regarding their lives and the future. They even fear things that might happen that would affect their testimony. Therefore, they are hesitant to acknowledge their salvation.

We must not lack faith in God for our lives in the present; we must hope in God for the future of our living, no matter what thoughts come to us. We must turn our eyes upward rather than inward. This is one of the purposes for the written Word of God—to give us both faith and hope, and to help us to maintain these precious virtues all the days of our lives.

Courage to Face the Future

If fear ever takes control of our mind, we will lose the imperative need of courage for these days. And this courage must be evident as the offspring of our thinking; no matter what thoughts come to our mind, we must take courage in our God. We need courage in every aspect of our living. Note Christ’s words to the palsied man:

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy: Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee (Matt. 9:2).

The Greek word for cheer is the word for courage or confidence. In this passage the Lord encouraged this man sick of the palsy to be of good courage in knowing that his sins were forgiven. This is a greater knowledge than physical healing. Oh, dear reader, is this resolved in our thinking, that all our past sins are forgiven? Then we need to take courage in this. In Matthew 14:27 we read of Christ walking the tempestuous sea, when great fear came upon His disciples in the boat. He announced to them, “Be of good cheer [courage]; it is I; be not afraid.” Christ is present in the worst of storms and winds of life; we must take courage, and be not afraid.

In John 16:33 the Lord told His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion,

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer [courage]; I have overcome the world.

It should be of great strength to our souls, that as we face this world, Christ has overcome the world. Yes, we should take courage in this. There is another important perspective of this courage found in Acts 23:11:

And the night following the Lord stood by him [Paul], and said, Be of good cheer [courage], Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.

No matter what circumstance we find ourselves in (even in prison), the Lord is with us, and He knows even the future events that the present will lead to in His good providence.

How to Deal with Fear of the Future

Our greater concern may be in how to deal with fear of the future. First, we want to ask the Lord how are we to discover or know where to draw the line between legitimate forethought and paralyzing forethought. The Lord gave us passages of Scripture that are to help us in this distinction. In Matthew 6:25–34, the Lord says we are to “take no thought” about the needs of life. We are not to be anxious about these needs for the future. Anxiety must not control our thinking about life’s necessities. If the economic situation in America radically changes or a pandemic virus becomes a reality personally, we must not become anxious. We must not allow future concerns to paralyze us. Note Christ’s warning in Luke 21:34–36:

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged [weighed down, depressed] with surfeiting [giddiness and headaches resulting from excess thinking that leads to medications to alleviate thoughts], drunkenness, and cares of this life [anxieties over the tangible things of this life], and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things [the worries and anxieties over events, circumstances, and material needs] that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

The investment of thinking and planning for the future is most proper only up to a point. If one goes beyond that point into worry and anxiety, the heart becomes crippled and paralyzed. Without God in the heart of our daily living, sin will enter. While it is proper to think about the future, it is wrong to be controlled by it. We do not want to become a prisoner to these fears that control our thinking about our future. We must not permit the unknown of the future to control us. We must view Christ for today in faith and let hope reign in our hearts for tomorrow. Remember, there are no unknowns with God; there is no future to Him. God abides only in an eternal present. Solomon gave us the conclusion of the whole matter of life:

Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Eccles. 2:13).

Conclusion: The Spirit of a Sound Mind

We have often wondered how Paul and Timothy each faced the growing religious and political powers against Christianity. Consider the times Paul was in prison: Acts 16 in Philippi, and from Acts 21 to the end of the book. He often was alone, although God providentially did provide a few companions to accompany the voyage with him to Rome. He was released from his first Roman imprisonment in a.d. 63. In a.d. 67–68 he was brought back to Rome for his final sentencing of death.

In reading Paul’s final epistle to Timothy, he was becoming more and more alone because both friends and enemies were scattered from him. In First Timothy he speaks of the burden that “some” were falling away (1 Tim. 1:3, 6, 19; 4:1; 5:15; 6:10, 21). But in Second Timothy the “some” becomes “all” forsaking him (1:15; 4:16). His final trip to Rome was the crisis point. After Paul’s martyrdom, we do not read of Timothy and how he fared with the increased persecution from the growing imperialism against Christianity. Church history declares that in a.d. 97, Timothy (then an 80-year-old bishop) tried to halt a procession given in honor of the goddess Diana in Ephesus. There he stood before a great multitude and preached the gospel. Tradition says the angry pagans beat him, dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death.

In Paul’s last epistle to Timothy, we read of the faith of Timothy, which was first found in his grandmother and then his mother. For our days ahead, we must remember that God has given to us faith in His Word and the Holy Spirit; both are gifts needed for the present and the future. Our fears are due to our failure to stir up the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, which is in us (2 Tim. 1:6, 7). These verses reveal to us that we must approach our trials in a different way than before we became a Christian. We must overcome through the power of the Holy Spirit. We must think of suffering in a new way; we must face everything in life in a new way. God has given to us the Holy Spirit, Who is not only with us but in us.

Note the apostle Paul’s important declaration:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7).

We certainly know our weaknesses. Even in doing the will of God in obedience, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). When we make the decision of what to do, we execute that decision in faith, with fear and trembling, and trusting “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). But even in trusting that there is this power within, we still have a “holy” timidity in doing what God wants us to do. Yes, it is the power of God working in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Whatever that will is, God will enable us with power from His Spirit. Peter was afraid to die that early morning during Jesus’ trials; he even denied the Lord because of that fear. But Peter was empowered with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power—an inward enabling to do whatever we are called upon to do or face in God’s will. God has also given us the spirit of love. Such a spirit takes us away from self-centered thinking in crisis situations. God has given us the spirit of love for Him and for others. Such a spirit delivers us from self-concern. But God has also given us the spirit of a sound mind, or spiritually healthy thinking in these days that are given over to confusion, irrationality, and insanity. A careful reading of Luke 21:7–19 is important for these days in the light of a needed deliverance of fear, even before an age that is out to destroy us.

We must earnestly pray in these days when fear and anxiety are sweeping the world concerning the coronavirus, that our heart will rest in God our Saviour. May we not be caught in the panic and hysteria of the present fear. We must trust our God with our life, our spouse, and our children. We must trust God with our ministries. And, we must trust God with both our living and our appointed time of dying. Let us know God’s Spirit. His Spirit is not a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness (Isa. 41:10).
What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me (Ps. 56:3, 4).
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me (Heb. 13:6).
Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest (Josh. 1:9).