Unable to withstand more judgment yesterday’s cold January evening, the intrepid Monday Night Women’s Bible Study broke rank and jumped to Isaiah 43, just for the evening. So, now–more reflections on the same chapter as the last (entry), with much more brainpower behind it!
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you” (Is. 43:1)
“Do not fear, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5)
What does it mean to “fear” God? Isn’t this discordant with God being all love and all goodness? What do we have to fear in him?
If we’re–with God’s help!–seeking the good and have experienced just a taste of the goodness and perfection of God, then we’re growing in virtue, and, knowing what it is like to be in the presence of real good-ness, we really are (or would be) afraid to behave in a way that takes us away or separates us from the good, and true, and beautiful in life. Our fear is of being separated from God–we are not afraid of anything else that might come upon us, because if God is with us in whatever trial or event or danger we experience, we have nothing to fear. God is with us. This promise he makes in verse 5 is described in v.2–see post below–and this God who promises to be with us no matter what we face is someone you really want on your side (see vs. 11-13).
This talk of “fear” led us to reflect on the difference between fear and anxiety: fear is born of an experience–if we’ve touched a hot stove burner, we are afraid when we are pushed from behind toward a stove that’s on. Anxiety is from anticipating–dreading!–something that we have never experienced; it’s worry. We’ll always have fear, it’s just a matter of what we choose and habituate ourselves to be afraid of; anxiety is not something we have to have.
God’s promise to be with us is elucidating in another way; one of our number shared how different she felt when she broke up with her college boyfriend of two years compared to when her father ended up in the hospital for a heart attack–in the case of her father’s illness, the extended family showed up quickly and en force, her immediate family was not alone, and though it was a scary time, they were all together in it, and it was beautiful, she said, because of the love that she felt. On the other hand, when she and her boyfriend broke up, the despair was engulfing–exactly because she was alone, and the cause of the pain was a declaration of alone-ness.
The discussion of fear and of being alone reminded me of Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace. They tell the king, “[W]e have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18). God is God, and he can save us–but even if he doesn’t, he’s still God. Actually, here’s a sermon that says all of that much more articulately and beautifully. (The Rev. Dr. Sam Wells)