President Barak Obama has used the phrase, “We are choosing hope over fear,” but really the people of the world need both. Throughout history, effective speaking of the good news of Jesus draws two responses, fear and hope. Fear, because of guilt, comes from the realization of our dismal position before blameless God. Hope, because of love, comes from the realization that God, at great pain to himself, has made a way for us move from certain doom to grand destiny. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), but does the message still work if there is no fear?
Fear of God and fear of death have gone hand in hand since the beginning of human history. Adam, knowing that death was the penalty of eating from the forbidden tree, answered God’s call, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid . . . so I hid’ (Genesis 3:10). Later biblical writers affirm that it is only though God’s presence that the fear of death is relieved. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4). In past generations the question, “If you died tonight, do you know what will happen?” evoked a fear response because in most peoples’ minds the idea of imamate death was a real possibility. Over the course of human history a person might not be able to grow or hunt enough food to survive, a neighboring tribe or country might attack and kill them, a fever, plague or infection might kill them, they might be sent off to war, or an enemy might launch an atomic bomb. A long life used to be 40 years, now people regularly live to 100. We are more likely to die from dieses caused by being too fat rather than starvation. We have antibiotics and vaccines; AIDS is not even an immediate death sentence anymore. We have not had World War or military draft in several generations, and the U.S.S.R. is broken up into smaller states, many of whom want the benefits of capitalism. In the United States, and much of the Western world, we just do not expect to die; that is one reason why the World Trade Center attack shocked us so greatly. Only the person lying in a hospital bed seriously contemplates the question, “If you died tonight, do you know what will happen?” When people have no fear of death, there is no fear of judgment from God. An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes (Psalm 36:1).
What do people fear in the modern world, and does the good news of Jesus address that fear? A lesson can be taken from the Greek myth of Tithonus. He was granted immortality, but Eos neglected to also request eternal youth for Tithonus. As he aged, he became increasingly debilitated and demented, driving Eos to distraction with his constant babbling, and eventually becoming an old shriveled creature, little more than a twig and whisper. People are no longer afraid of dying, they are afraid of living. We fear living as a decrepit individual in a world we cannot enjoy, or being physically vital in a world that is falling apart. Cancers, antibiotic resistant strains, economic ruin, terrorism, global warming, these are modern fears. Biblically, these fears are small compared to the fear of God. Jesus said, ‘I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him’ (Luke 12:4, 5). Yet with even our misplaced fears, the light of God’s promises can lead us to salvation.
Rick Warren began to uncover the nature of modern fears when he wrote The Purpose Driven Life. He saw the need to shift away from saying, “God will save you from judgment and hell, and give you abundant life as a bonus.” He let people know that God was interested in their lives, not just their deaths, but “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” neglects an essential element of the good news, it leaves out the bad news, why we must choose that wonderful plan God has for us. A purpose driven life without the fear of God is an ego driven life, still headed to judgment. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27). A statement better addressing modern fears, and presenting both sides of the good news of Jesus is, “God has always had a wonderful plan for this world, and you have a place in it, but you can be a part of God’s plan or you can be ruined by it.” The evil in our world is obvious. We are corrupted people, living in a corrupted world, for that we stand condemned, not just after we die, but right now, as we have to live in the mess we have made. But God, in his great love has made a way for us to become new creations working in this world, and one day will give his people a renewed world as reward (Romans 3:16, 23; 2 Chronicles 19:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 2 Peter 3:13).