I have a neighbor who likes to talk. Occasionally I see him and greet him across the fence. Sometimes it’s just to see how he’s doing. Sometimes it’s because I’m concerned about a tree branch. First I ask him how he’s doing. Then he tells me his political views. Regardless of the level of government or who’s in office, he’s quite pessimistic. Then he tells me that he’s not so pessimistic regarding other parts of life and asks me if I’m an optimist. He says, “In your line of work, you’re probably an optimist.” I didn’t know how to answer yet, so I made a joke: “In a perfect world.”
I had to think about what the Christian answer to that is. As Christians, we want biblical doctrine to inform the way we think. Eventually I came up with an answer. Christians are pessimistic regarding man, but optimistic regarding God. So, as regards the life to come, we are infinitely optimistic. But in this life there is a mixture. Some things will go very well. Some things will go very wrong. But even in this life God is in control over all things. And being in control over all things, God sets limits to every evil.
I see a lot of fear in the world. I see a lot of fear among Christians too. And I see it on all sides. There is fear of a virus, fear of government, fear of big tech, fear of a failed economy, etc. And not all fear is bad. I’ve seen Christians chastise one another for being afraid. One will say, “You should only fear God.” So the other person says, “I’m not afraid; I’m concerned.” But it’s just semantics, as if it’s not okay to be mildly afraid, but it’s perfectly fine to be extremely concerned.
Whatever you call it, what matters is the heart. Do you “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s explanation of the First Commandment)? Here’s the best way to gauge this: when we see evil and danger around us, what is our first response? We can have multiple responses, but the first response is telling. Do we pray to our loving and all-powerful Father? Do we call for government action? Do we buy more ammo? Do we watch more cable news or read more commentary online (these are unhealthy choices)? There can be multiple responses, depending on what the danger or evil is, but the first response is telling.
A Christian who fears the Lord should pray first. This is worship. God has given us his Name so that we might “call upon Him in every time of need and worship him with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving” (Luther’s explanation of the Second Commandment). Fear is a form of worship. Fear of God is proper worship. When we ascribe to God the power to save or destroy us that is proper worship. Fear of anything else is devil worship. That is, when we fear anything else more than the one true God, we are ascribing to that thing the power to save or destroy us. And since the devil is the source of all evil, such fear is devil worship. We are really ascribing to the devil the power to save or destroy us.
God commands us not to fear the devil, nor to worship him, because the devil has neither the power to save, nor the power to destroy. Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28). And he’s not talking about the devil. He’s talking about our heavenly Father.
The devil lies in order to make us believe that he can destroy us. This is how he attempts to steal worship from the one true God. Do not believe him. Only God can destroy for all eternity. More than that, only God can save for all eternity, so fear him. Live wisely. Love your neighbor. Fear the Lord.
The peace of Christ be with you all,