It is not wrong to be afraid. God sees when we are afraid and it is not His desire for us to be afraid. The Lord says ‘Do not be afraid’ in His dealings with people throughout the Old and New Testaments. This bible study explores and reflects on the story of Jesus calming the storm.
What does the bible teach us about fear
Adapted from a reflection by Jeremy Marshall
Mark 4: 35 – 41
That day when evening came, he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Jesus with foreknowledge accompanies His disciples into a place of danger. He goes to sleep while a huge storm arises suddenly, out of nothing and threatens to sink the boat.
Fear can arise very suddenly as with worrying news from a Doctor — or when we are on a crowded train and someone starts coughing. The disciples are terrified that they are going to die. Things are completely out of control. Water is pouring into the boat and they are sinking and they are desperate. Having exhausted all their human efforts to get back in control, they ultimately also despair, for they finally doubt that even God cares. For us there can be fear also just like the disciples—who rudely say to Jesus “Don’t you care if we drown?”—and we too in fear can often doubt God’s character or even His existence. But in fact God meets us most of all in the storms of life when we have lost control and are afraid.
What can we do when we are afraid?
The answer to fear is this: to speak to God and seek to know Him more and to seek to experience a much bigger fear; what the bible calls “the fear of the Lord”. If we are afraid of something then the arrival of something infinitely bigger drives out and makes us forget the first fear. Our problem is that we see one fear clearly enough—death—but we don’t see clearly the infinitely bigger God, whom we are told “will swallow up death”.
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. (Is 25.8)
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15.54–55)
God invites us to fear Him, to be in awe of the fact that the Maker of the universe not only knows us but feels for us.
Our Lord, Jesus, never asks us to do something He hasn’t done himself or go through something he hasn’t gone through. He is the trailblazer and we must follow Him. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus felt tremendous fear of death. What He did with His fear shows us what to do with ours. He asked God for help and so must we. We tread in His steps.
But His way also diverges from ours.
He was deserted by God so that we will never be deserted. He lacked the presence of the Father: “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27.46) so that we would never lack His presence.
Most important for us is that I am utterly convinced, however feebly we put our trust in Him, that Jesus will remain in your and my “boat.” Sometimes our sense of His presence in our boat may be more or less powerful, but the reality of His sailing with us, once he has boarded our vessel, doesn’t change one iota. As the storm of life rages He may appear to be asleep, He may appear to be leaving us to our fears, but in fact He is not. Never! Never!
As we face our fears He gives us help.
He comforts us through His word. His word gives us His presence, the personal experience of His reality. Here is His promise:
From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber. Behold, the Protector of Israel will not slumber or sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is the shade on your right hand. The sun will not strike you by day nor the moon by night. The LORD will guard you from all evil; He will preserve your soul. The LORD will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore. (Ps 121)
We might have accidents, our foot might slip and we often forget things. We might forget to wash our hands. Every day we sleep and pay no attention to anything during this time, for we are oblivious. But happily God is not like us. He is not accident prone.
- He is watching over our comings and goings with fatherly and tender care “for the eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut 33.27).
- He promises us that he will never abandon us in our boat for “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Deut 31.6, Heb 13.5). He says “look I am with you always” (Matt 28.20). His very name is Emmanuel which means of course “God with us” (Matt 1.23).
This is how we deal with fear: we have him in our boat and we see where we are going. The story ends, does it not, with Jesus bringing the disciples to the other side? He will do the same with us. Eventually we will all die and we might die next week of Coronavirus or we might live to one hundred years old and die peacefully in our bed. We do not know.
But, friends, with absolute certainty this we do know: that if Jesus is on our “boat” then he will bring us all, fears and all, eventually to the other side, where we will all meet Him face to face. Then finally all fear will end.
Being afraid is normal.
I’m afraid of illness and death. It’s part of being human. It’s also part of being a Christian: God keeps over and over repeating this command to His children “Don’t be afraid” because He precisely knows what we are like and He sympathises with our frailty and fears. “Father-like He tends and spares us/ well our feeble frame He knows”. Amazingly, God in His word specifically promises to deliver us from our fear of death:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he (i.e. Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Heb 2.14–15)
For God not only tells us not to be afraid—he gives us the means to control our fears, for He gives us Himself. He gives us His presence because He loves us and by His perfect love He promises us He will drive out our fear. In this life this will always be a partial driving out, as I know very well myself. What’s encouraging is that in the life to come fear and pain and suffering and death (which is the ultimate fear) will themselves be destroyed.
All that is fearful will one day be utterly destroyed. Our storm wracked boat (with the Lord of course still in it) will at last glide into the encircling arms of the heavenly harbour, and then, finally, we will know that we have come ashore, come home to our Father’s house.
Jeremy Marshall is the former CEO of the UK’s oldest private bank, C. Hoare & Co. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016.
Beyond the Big C chronicles Jeremy’s extraordinary relationship with cancer and, more than anything, his extraordinary relationship with the God who promises life beyond the prognosis. The essence of Jeremy’s story is that despite the sickness and disease present in the world, a life lived in light of Christ’s death on the cross means there is hope for the future no matter what.