Fear religion is everywhere. To the layman it may appear nearly all religions are based on fear - fear of loneliness, sickness, accident, or fear of death; fear of terrible spiritual retribution for misdeeds; fear of eternal torture in an imagined inferno of hellfire. Unnamed fear can become a powerful, motivating force. It has led tens of thousands to hiding places in the wilderness; or to caves and dugouts carefully stocked with provisions. But is the Bible a book of fear? Does God want His people constantly afraid of a terrible consequence in the future, looking nervously over their shoulders in anticipation of a terror-stricken flight for their lives?
WHEN YOU were a little child, you no doubt developed many fears. Some were the result of childhood fantasies of your own; some the result of frightening stories told to you by adults or other children; some obtained from children's books. Did you ever fear the dark? Ever walk along a dark street with the leaves blowing and the trees swaying, and imagine all sorts of evil creatures just waiting to gobble you up? You have, no doubt, received your quota of childhood fairy tales about goblins, trolls, ogres, giants, demons, witches and fairies. I remember my very first nightmare quite vividly. A neighborhood boy had told me a grisly story about a haunted hospital replete with bloody knives and walking corpses draped in bloodstained bandages; huge syringes, needles and saws; creaking floors, squeaking hinges and groaning elevators loaded with bodies. He took me on a vivid mind's eye tour of gore. I guess I woke up the entire neighborhood that night — and probably scared my mother out of ten years growth — because I woke up screaming at the top of my lungs just as a bloody corpse was about to "get" me. Remember the time when you were a child and it stormed so violently that you ran in to jump into bed with your parents, or older brother or sister? Remember the way you used to hide your eyes when the chiller movie got to the most suspenseful moment? Well, maybe not everybody remembers childhood fears, but most people had them. And, in many cases, some never got over them. Fears of heights, of depths, of water, fire, wind, rain, or the dark — all are commonplace in the hidden fears of millions of adults. It's no wonder, then, that since religion deals with an unseen world — with spirit beings, future punishments and rewards — that people's FEARS play an important part. Fear can be a powerful force! A soldier who is decorated for heroic deeds on the battlefield may well have acted, initially, through blinding fear. And a person who is held in the grips of unknown fear over imagined spiritual consequences can make vital, sometimes life-and-death decisions while motivated by that force. But God is not the author of "fear religion." "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" (I John 4:18). The preceding scripture (verse 17) spoke of "boldness in the day of judgment," meaning the faith to KNOW your reward is sure, no matter what the temporary physical suffering during this life. God IS love, the Bible asserts! Jesus Christ was love personified! He prayed that His disciples would love one another, and said, "Fear not," and "Be not afraid." Still, the fears of pain, persecution, suffering, or death; the fears of spiritual punishment and unknown, unnamed torments — millions find billions of years in various imagined "places" of suspended animation; or the fear of an ever-burning hell virtually DOMINATES many of the religions of the world. All of you have read or heard of the Eastern religions of self-inflicted pain; the beds of nails or hot coals; or deliberate self-inflicted blindness resulting from staring at the sun — all this, plus infant sacrifice and the distorting of the human body through deliberate injury during one's youth — all is dominated by fear.
The Right Kind of Fear
Blind terror — the chilling, shocking, paralysis of fright — is an extreme human emotion. There are many ranges of "fear" in between the kind of fear God wants in His people and the kind which has been the hidden, motivating force of all sorts of bizarre religious doctrines and practices. God said: "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be WELL with them, and with their children for ever!" (Deut. 5:29.) Here, God plainly says He wants His people to have "fear" of Him. But He wants the same kind of fear that an obedient child would have toward a loving father! Moses said: "And the Eternal commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Eternal our God, for our GOOD always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day" (Deut. 6:24). The Bible, especially the Old Testament, contains literally dozens of expressions about the fear of God. "In the fear of the Eternal is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge" (Prov. 14:26). David was inspired to write: "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so GREAT is his mercy toward them that FEAR him.... Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Eternal pitieth them that FEAR HIM" (Ps. 103:11, 13). The kind of fear God wants to be a continual emotion inside His people is like an "awesome awareness"; like a full, consuming knowledge of His great power, His great laws, His great ability, His great purpose in our lives — and that He is the Righteous Judge! He wants us to fear to do evil — and the Bible is filled with examples which prove that God's desire is as much aimed at the terrible consequences sin brings upon us as it is His wrath when we sin. He wants us to be in awe of Him; in deep, abiding respect; but not in fright, worry, apprehension, or terror! The fear of God is tempered in exact measure to the obedience and faith of the Christian. Paul wrote: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," showing the sinner he had better really FEAR to SIN! There is a "certain FEARFUL looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:31, 27). It is those who have WILLED not to repent who should be in terror and fear. But remember, "Perfect love casts OUT fear" and "There is NO FEAR in love." God is consistent — and there is no contradiction whatever between that great and faithful LOVE He wants to give to us, and the "fear" which is an "awe" and a "fearing to do evil" that is a veritable part of that love.
The Wrong Kind of Fear
Fear of man — fear of embarrassment or persecution, of being ridiculed and made to feel "small" or "unimportant" or "unsuccessful" — is a driving, motivating force in the psychological makeup of the modern business world. The entire social structure of human societies is made up of various vanities, jealousies and fears. Human nature is a fearful nature. It is basically inferior and driven by vanity (Jer. 17:9; Eccl. 1:2), yet desires to overcome its dozens of fears by self-assertions of vanity! Self-importance, status, class consciousness and a desire for success are all symptoms of this deep-seated fear inside each human being. Millions have driven themselves toward various goals of success — whether in business, the arts, sports, government, the military, or religion — because of a deep, all-abiding fear of ridicule. A fear of failure is the opposite, and perhaps balancing factor, in each great desire for success. Crime is fear related, too. Thousands of people have been killed because a burglar was driven by fear of being "found out" and so killed to cover the lesser crime. Hundreds of policemen have been shot as a fear reaction to attempted arrests — and so have shopkeepers who may have appeared to be uncooperative when being robbed. It's a powerful force, that fear of consequences — a driving, all-consuming force that can be absolutely catalytic to human actions. God's Word says: "... I will never leave you, nor forsake you. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:5-6). Since human nature is pride, vanity, jealousy, lust and greed — a driving, all-consuming desire to be virtually worshipped for one's qualities, abilities, appearance, wealth, possessions, or success — the thought of being appraised at somewhat less than the level approved by this self-worshipful attitude of vanity is a kind of constant fear! It is the opposite of hope, faith and love. God's Holy Spirit gives us "love, joy, peace," meaning peace of mind! A person with a full measure of God's Holy Spirit will not only not be fearful of man — of man's persecutions, belittling and condemning accusations and attacks — but he will not be continually seeking status and importance among others — simply because he lacks that ingredient of fear which drives most men and women on. The right kind of fear, then, is an outgoing love of God, coupled with a fear to do evil, like a great, "awesome awareness" of God's great power — but it is not terror, nor unnamed fright, nor fear of physical consequences. The wrong kind of fear is fear of man; fear of failure; fear of having your vanity exposed; fear of what might happen to your physical being. Notice. Even when God's Word warns us of Satan the devil, it says: "Be sober, be vigilant [be grave, watch]; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith [a calm, patient" assurance], knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (I Pet. 5:8, 9). It is not the Christian who is in "fear" — but Satan himself, and his demons! James wrote, "Thou believest that there is one God [or, "God is one" — margin]; thou doest well: the devils [demons] also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). Still, even though God's Word reveals it is strong faith and confidence that is engendered by God's Holy Spirit, millions live in fear of various forms of retribution, punishment, loss of reward, torture or death. Paul said, "For God hath not given us the spirit of FEAR, but of power, and of love, and of a SOUND MIND" (II Tim. 1:7). Mental instability, various psychoses, neuroses, fears and worries, are based on fear. It is the devil himself, and his demons who are fearful, in craven, angry, mindless TERROR! They know the impending consequences for sin — and they "tremble." It is only when "doctrines of demons," and "ideas" which come from such sources, begin to creep into a person's thinking that various kinds of dark fears emerge! Ideas about private little hideouts to "flee" to when the going gets rough stem from fear of physical hardship and martyrdom. When a person begins thinking of PHYSICAL protection, he has quit thinking on "those things above," and is far more concerned, for the moment, on "those things beneath," meaning the perpetuation of his physical existence. Such a person is reasoning from FEAR, and not from faith.
Your Saviour and mine, your soon-coming King, had calm, patient assurance coupled with godly fear. He had the spirit of the fear of God (Isa. 11:2). And He was heard of God because He possessed the right type of fear (Heb. 5:7-8). Christ, unlike today's purveyors of fear religion, never taught us to be in terror of His Father. Rather He came to reveal the true character of a compassionate Father whom Jesus said was merciful and even kind to the unthankful and the evil (Luke 6:35-36). But, that's not the way you've always heard it. You have probably been taught that the old Father God of the Old Testament is like the proverbial hanging judge seeking to vent His wrath on helpless human beings. Nothing could be further from the truth — and in more ways than one. If you do not yet understand that Jesus Christ was, in fact, the God of the Old Testament, then read our free article "Who - What - Was Jesus Before His Human Birth?" If you are a normal parent, you are ready and willing to forgive your small children for the seemingly inevitable offences that children commit. Do you sincerely and honestly think that God the Father — the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17) — a giver of grace and glory (Ps. 84:11) — is any different? Or is He not more willing to forgive us than we are our small children? God is your friend. He is on your side. He is in your corner. He is simply not going to let things turn out wrong for you in the long run (Rom. 8:28).
Fear Religion in Jesus' Day
Many Jewish families — contemporary with Jesus Christ — were caught in the viselike grip of the Pharisees' fear religion. There is no more poignant illustration of how incredibly deep the fear of men can affect religion than the account in John's Gospel, chapter nine. Jesus mercifully healed a grown man who had been blind from birth. But his parents were in such stark terror of the establishment religion that they not only unnaturally repressed all normal expression of joy, but were constrained from publicly acknowledging the miracle itself. "These words spake his parents [in answer to the Pharisees], because they feared the Jews" (verse 22). Remember also that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he feared his religious peers (John 3:1-2). Even the disciples were afflicted with the effects of fear religion, being "... assembled for fear of the Jews..." (John 20:19). Jesus simply did not come to bring us this brand of fear religion. Instead, He exposed its true colors at every turn of His ministry.
The Fruits of Fear Religion
"Woe unto you [the fear purveyors] ... for ye lade men with burdens grevious to be borne," said Jesus to the biblical lawyers and professional arguers of His day. Man's ecclesiastical fear builds up a mountain of woe and misery for all who are unfortunate enough to be squeezed in its suffocating, octopus-like tentacles. Jesus came to free us from all religions that would seek to enslave us in the fear of a God of wrathful terror — including even professing Christian religions that teach an ever-burning hellfire that would roast men made in His very image for all eternity. He had inspired Isaiah to write: "... Their fear toward me [God] is taught by the precept of men" (Isa. 29:13). God in His Word — not men — tells you how you ought to fear Him as you would a loving Father whom you would hate to disappoint. Jesus' message to His beloved Church is not one of mindless terror or unreasoned fear, but of calm, reassuring faith. Remember, it was Christ who said: "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).