Don’t Be Afraid
Genesis 15, Psalm 7-8
Well, there is a day skipped in here. Sorry.
I think I mentioned the other day that Abram is one of my favorite biblical stories. I would love to spend a day with Abram and learn from him and talk to him about his story and his life. I cannot imagine what life must have been like for him: Called away from his family, given a promise by God that one day he would own land, have an heir, and be a blessing (all of which must have seemed radically impossible, endured a huge battle against a bunch of kings—this was a man who saw a lot of things in his years. He had endured famines, travels to Egypt, the wrath of Pharaoh, quarrels with his nephew, and his life would grow no easier as the years went by and the narrative of God’s providence unfolded.
Chapter 15 is unique, I think, in this sense. It is sort of a peaceful chapter, and yet the things that happen in it are rather frightening. Nevertheless, it is the opening words that thrill and delight me. Can you imagine the ‘Sovereign Lord’ (v 2) speaking to you in such a direct way saying, “ ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’” Imagine that! God was his reward! This means, to me, that of all Abram had to look forward to (land, blessing, and not least a son), his greatest reward, his ultimate reward, was YHWH himself. God was his protection. Abram would not rely upon military prowess or the gifts of kings or anything but God.
God would do everything needed to protect Abram and bring about His intended purposes; namely, to provide the seed who would destroy the serpent.
For Abram’s part, all he had to do was ‘not be afraid.’
God was calling Abram into scary, uncharted territory. He was asking Abram to do things that no one else had ever been asked to do. He was asking Abram to believe things that no one else had ever had to believe. He was asking Abram to go to places where no one had ever been asked to go. “Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I seriously cannot imagine doing what God was calling Abram to do, and I can scarcely imagine having the sort of faith Abram had to believe God. Doesn’t it take a lot of effort to go in the direction that God calls us to go?
Isn’t it strange, somewhat, that the first command God gives Abram is, “Don’t be afraid?” You know, I need to read that verse every single day and hear those words spoken to me every minute of the day. I need to hear the word of the Lord speak in the midst of the ‘everydayness’ of every day and remind me that ‘it’ is not dependent upon me: “I am your shield; I am your very great reward.” This is God’s way of letting Abram know that ‘it’ does not depend upon Abram. It is God’s way of taking the burden off of the human and putting it back on himself. It is, to be sure, another instance of God’s grace in action.
“Don’t be afraid.” Why? There are a million reasons every single day to be afraid—especially living here in the world now where everything seems so damned uncertain. But God spoke to Abram about uncertainty too, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country no their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” There will be uncertainty, but that’s the whole thing. God’s plan doesn’t seem to depend upon the strength of certainty in human circumstances. That is, life can be topsy-turvy and upside down and God remains true and faithful: Don’t look around, Abram, keep your eyes fixed on me, your shield and very great reward. Nothing else you see, nothing else you possess, nothing else I give you is the substance of your reward. Your reward is nothing less than Me.
“Don’t be afraid!” Right. Kids. Money. Bills. How are we to not be afraid? In a sense, not being afraid is the essence of faith because that is when we trust that God’s wisdom and purposes and plans are far greater and far more likely to succeed than our own. Of course we shouldn’t be afraid. Sometimes, however, we are just too darn afraid of living without fear because it is like a crutch that we feel we need to get around from day to day. God, however, was telling Abram: You won’t need the crutch of fear because you belong to me and that is, and will be, enough for you. Your faith will be the standard by which all generations will be measured. Indeed, the righteous will live by the same faith Abram did.
That is the sincere call we have as people of faith, as Jesus followers.
The other day, I posted this but now I think it is worth a re-read:
And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear. As John says in his letter, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4.18). And the resurrection is the revelation of perfect love, God’s perfect love for us, his human creatures. That’s why, though we may at any stage in our lives grasp the truth that God raised Jesus from the dead, it takes us all our life long to let that belief soak through and permeate the rest of our thinking, feeling, and worrying lives.”
Sometimes this process isn’t just a gradual thing; it may involve sudden crises. There’s a hidden chapter in the life of St Paul, which is usually ignored by those who see him either as the heroic missionary or the profound theologian, or possibly the misguided misogynist. Acts doesn’t mention this hidden chapter, but in our second lesson we heard Paul himself speak of it. At one stage of his work in what he called Asia, and we call Turkey, he says that he went through a horrendous and traumatic experience which seem to destroy him totally. ‘I was so utterly, unbearably crush’, he writes, ‘that I despaired of life itself; indeed, I felt as though I had received the sentence of death’ (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). And a good part of the second letter to Corinth actually grows out of this experience; the brash, proud Corinthian church had wanted Paul to be a success story, and he had to explain to them that being an apostle, and ultimately being a Christian, was not a matter of being a success story, but of living with human failure–and with the God who raises the dead. That’s what following Jesus is likely to involve.” (NT Wright, Following Jesus, 68-69)
Resurrection people do not live in fear because perfect love has driven out all fear.