PROBABLY all of us have felt afraid at one time or another. We might fear giving a presentation in front of a class or some business colleagues. Or we might fear violence in an unfamiliar area. Some of us might fear sickness or aging, or be worried about a loved one. And while we may be able to function in spite of our fear, we still long to be rid of it. Many people have found permanent relief from fear through studying the Bible. What has always struck me about the people in the Bible is how contemporary they are. They faced unreasoning violence in the form of invading armies. They lived in the midst of thieves, murderers, and other criminals. They struggled with fear of famine and drought, with sickness, loss of loved ones, and fear of death, just as we do. They, too, had to deal with colleagues who betrayed them or in some other way caused trouble.
Yet their guide in dealing with these conditions was their trust in God, divine Love. The Psalmist declared: ``What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee. In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust.''
Certainly the lives of Biblical figures tell of God's love in many individual ways: David, a young shepherd, conquered the arrogant, gigantic warrior Goliath; Elisha and his servant were protected from harm though they were surrounded by an enemy army. And Christ Jesus' life was protected and preserved by God, by divine Love, even when it seemed to be taken from him by crucifixion.
These and many other examples are recounted in the Bible not just for our comfort but for our instruction as well. Their message is that God isn't a far-off deity who may or may not care. As Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, puts it in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``Paganism and agnosticism may define Deity as `the great unknowable;' but Christian Science brings God much nearer to man, and makes Him better known as the All-in-all, fo rever near.''
This knowledge of God as ``forever near'' makes a difference in several ways. Fear often comes on us because we feel we are alone, facing something unbearable. At moments like this, knowing God's nearness enables us to turn to Him in prayer and seek to feel His presence. I remember on one occasion feeling terribly afraid and not having any idea what to do. I was almost like a rabbit caught in the eye of the serpent -- unable to do anything to help myself, I was so afraid. But I was still able to think, and the habit of turning to God for help in all kinds of situations led me to resort to prayer. The result was that I was able to see what steps I needed to take to disarm the situation.
Prayer opens our eyes to the wisdom and intelligence that God has already bestowed on us because we are His perfect spiritual children. If we can see ourselves as in truth the offspring of divine Love, even a little bit, we are beginning to give up belief in the limits that fear would put on us -- whether it is fear of other people, fear of lack of some kind, or even fear of ourselves. As offspring of infinite Love, we are not material beings, limited by conditions or situations. We are in fact insepara ble from Love! In other words, God is everywhere and with each of us. Recognizing Love as truly present in our lives helps us to break out of the feeling that we are doomed to failure or poverty or whatever other limit fear would put on us.
It's important to realize that God's love isn't changeable -- here today and gone tomorrow. It is completely trustworthy. His love far exceeds even the highest degree of human love any of us might have experienced, and it is permanent.
This simple fact that we can never be separated from God, Love, who is All and only good, can have a great effect because it tells us that we are not alone. Even if no one understands what we are going through or if we can't tell anyone of our trouble, divine Love's presence can and will lift us out of our fears. And if we are confused about what to do, prayer to divine Love will guide us even if the situation still seems threatening.
Again, Christ Jesus' life is a wonderful illustration of Love's presence. Luke's Gospel tells of a time when an angry mob wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff. Instead of running, the Master prayed. The Bible tells us that he passed through the midst of the angry people untouched. Outwardly there was still an angry mob bent on killing him. But because he was thinking of himself in spiritual terms, he was able to escape literally without anyone laying a hand on him.
While Jesus' ability to prove his Father's care might seem beyond our reach right at this moment, to say that we can't even try to follow him is to limit ourselves in just the way that fear would encourage. But if we are willing to pray humbly and to turn to God, we will surely find a road out of fear.
The children of Israel lifted up their eyes,
and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them;
and they were sore afraid:
and the children of Israel
cried out unto the Lord.
...And Moses said unto the people,
Fear ye not, stand still,
and see the salvation of the Lord....
And the Lord caused the sea to go back
by a strong east wind....
And the children of Israel went into
the midst of the sea upon the dry ground....
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day
out of the hand of the Egyptians....
Exodus 14:10, 13, 21, 22, 30