Fear can be our worst enemy when, under different guises, it makes its way into our life — but it doesn’t need to have the last word.
The first book of the Bible tells of the first time a human decided to disobey God. And the story goes thus: “Then the Lord God called the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He responded, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:9-10). This scene is far from being ridiculous. It contains a great revelation of man, of God, and of the relationship between them.
For motives unknown to us and for which we use the name ‘original sin,, man — male and female — who had been created by God, begin to be afraid of Him. When God looks for them, they hide. They feel ridiculous, fragile, indecent. They are afraid of being seen. They are afraid of what God will think. Truth be told, it is not clear what they’re actually afraid of. Mankind from the beginning is like the sparrow that flits away and hurriedly flies off for no reason.
From the very moment, man feels afraid of God, afraid of everything. This is what is recounted after the story of Genesis.
Man is afraid of man: Cain, in a way, is afraid of his brother Abel. He envies him. Fear will engender death.
Man is afraid of nature: The Great Flood recalls the fear that nature can awaken in humans. Nature can get out of control and unleash terrifying forces.
Man is afraid of groups and unfamiliar peoples: The story of Babel recounts how people are afraid of each other because they cannot understand each other.
In this way, the Bible describes mankind as having lost its roots, its balance, destined to perpetual anguish. Humans will only find peace when they recover their place. The man who is afraid is you and me. This revelation adds to my uneasiness. While it calms me to know that I’m not the only one in this state, it doesn’t make me less afraid, and I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of what might happen, I’m afraid of others, I’m even afraid of myself and my reactions, and lastly, I’m afraid of God.
But, how can I overcome my fear?
Fear of everything and everyone
I’m afraid of what might happen to me. I am not in charge of my future, I see misfortune all around me, I feel the threat of powerful forces surrounding me. It’s no accident that all those fortune tellers make so much money! I’m afraid of others. They’re all watching me, they want what I have, they want me. They compete with me, they are my enemies, they get in my way. I don’t even totally trust my friends. I would love to be able to trust everyone. I would love to go up to everyone and converse about their inner feelings. But I don’t, because I am afraid—afraid of being rejected, made fun of, ridiculed. Deep down, I feel like Adam, naked in front of others, helpless, weak, ridiculous. And besides, so few people are interested in me. I’m afraid of being used.
I’m afraid of myself, too. I know myself. I know my limits, my craziness, my temptations, my hidden desires. I’m like a bloated wineskin—I live in fear of being emptied out, drying up, and bursting. I’m afraid that all the evil I have in me and that festers inside will suddenly burst out. How embarrassing that would be!
I’m afraid of God. I confess that I haven’t come much farther than Adam. I’m at the same point. If there is someone I feel naked with, it is God; He sees it all, He scrutinizes hearts and intestines, no one can hide from Him. All that sappy talk about Divine Infinite Mercy doesn’t help at all. On the contrary, it sounds too much like a prefabricated discourse, like: “Don’t be nervous, the judge isn’t that bad. He knows perfectly well you are a criminal. But since you’re not the only one, if he condemns you there would be no one left in Heaven. So take it easy. It is too good to be just!” What can I do? I will keep on fearing He who can condemn me for all eternity, because I know that he’ll have plenty of reasons to do so.
The Spirit of God eliminates all fear
Precisely because God knows man is afraid, He has taken thousands of opportunities to approach him, to speak to him, to calm him down, to try to reconcile him. This is what the Bible tells us. This is what Jesus came to do; He came to calm us down. On several occasions, He says to those around him: “Don’t be afraid” or “Do not fear nor be frightened.” It is not a question of nice-sounding words that are completely useless. For Jesus—the son of God who was separated from him—God himself is the one who calms Him. Human beings will only recover peace when they return to their proper place, which is with God.
Jesus promises to send a comforting Spirit who has the mission (among others) of reconciling man with all those he fears. This Spirit was sent by Him. It is a maternal Spirit. Those who let themselves be comforted by it feel calmed. Those who allow themselves to be consoled by it see their fear dissolve. The martyrs are an example of this serene tranquility as they faced death. Death will always surprises those who do not know this tranquility. The Spirit of God, if I am open to its presence, eliminates all fear in me. It reconciles me with everything that happens.
See your fellow man as a brother loved by God and not as a dangerous enemy
Those who trust in Divine Providence have conquered fear. The Spirit of Jesus eliminates the fear of others I have in my heart. “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). Those who see others as a brother or sister, loved by God, and not as a danger, have conquered fear. The Holy Spirit is stronger than the fear I have of myself, because it knows me better than I know myself. It knows my struggles, my intentions, my weaknesses. “ [And] we will be at peace before God even though our conscience condemns us, because God is greater than our conscience and knows all things” (1 John 3:19-20). Those who firmly believe “If God is for us, who will be against us?” (Romans 8:31) will have conquered fear.
The Holy Spirit reconciles me with God. It is not that God’s justice is minimized. “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5). He or she who lets themselves be taken by the hand and led to the Father’s house, who has a place reserved for them where they are expected and loved, they live “outside of fear.” The advocacy promised to us by Jesus also comes in the form of practical help, such as medical, psychological, and spiritual practices to help us overcome irrational fears.
Who can be recognized as a true believer? He or she who is not afraid; the person who has let the Lord deliver them from the fear that paralyzes and keeps us from God, ourselves, and one another. They have let themselves be reconciled by God (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). The Lord wanted the sacrament of reconciliation to rid me of all things that cause me to fear. On the surface, opposing winds can bring out storms, but deep down in the ocean of his or her heart, the believer is at peace.
If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.
Here are some numbers:
- 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
- Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
- Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
- Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
- Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
- We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)
As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.
Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!