The motto – ‘Who’s afear’d’ – seems a strange one. It could easily be read as an expression of anxiety: Are you feeling as nervous as I am? Clearly, its intended meaning is the opposite of that: Who’s afraid? Not us! Bring it on!
We live (as in the title of Matt Haig’s insightful book) on a nervous planet. Climate change, the coronavirus, Brexit, Trump, terrorism…there are a lot of things that are making lots of people very worried. A few weeks back my local university went into lockdown when reports came in that someone wearing a suicide vest was on campus. In the end it turned out to be just a runner with an exercise vest. This caused general hilarity – at least at my gym, where we have a row of such vests hanging up. But a friend of mine who works at the university described how for a few minutes he really thought people were about to die. Fear spreads fast and rumours quickly multiply, especially in our social media age.
One of my colleagues described how watching the news last night made it easy to believe everything is a conspiracy – China covering up the true scale of a pandemic; big business covering up the true impact of their pollution; politicians covering up the truth of their corruption. He then turned to Isaiah 8:12-15:
‘Do not call conspiracy
everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread.
He will be a holy place;
for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.’
This is a challenge: the people of God are not to see conspiracy where everyone else sees conspiracy nor to fear the same things everyone else fears. Yet we are to fear – we are to fear the Lord. The prophet says that those who don’t get this right end up stumbled and broken. It’s a real ‘who’s afear’d’ passage: don’t fear what you shouldn’t fear, even if it appears frightening – but make sure you fear the one who is to be feared.
The apostle Peter applies this prophecy in his instructions to the scattered churches in what we today think of as Turkey. First Peter is a remarkable letter that teaches ‘the chosen exiles’ how not to give in to fear even as they face hostility from many quarters. Key to this not fearing is a right fearing of God. Commenting on this in his brilliant book, Evangelism as Exiles, Elliot Clark writes,
But here’s where we encounter some of the strangeness of Peter’s first epistle. Because as he wrote to exiled Christians encompassed by fears small and great, Peter repeatedly encouraged them to fear. Such an approach, at least to our…mindset, seems counter-intuitive if not counter-productive. If we writing a letter to instill hope in struggling Christians, we wouldn’t think to encourage them to fear.
We need to redirect our fears. Rather than fearing the conspiracies of this world (real or imagined) fear of the Lord can bring us into freedom. The Lord is either a holy place, our refuge, or the rock on which we stumble.
‘Who’s afear’d’ – too many people are, but those whose lives are founded on the rock can say, Who’s afraid? Not us! Bring it on!