Summary: Delivered 1986. Fear is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on our image of a vengeful God. But challenging God is faith-filled, and His response is Jesus, who experiences all that we experience.
The trouble with preparing sermons in a series that lasts several weeks is that I am never quite sure whether I am the only one who knows where we are in that series. I am never quite sure whether you see just four sermons, or maybe you only attend two of the four weeks, or whether you sit with bated breath waiting for the next installment, or what. And so I keep on feeling constrained to try to bring you up to date with where we are; I can't assume, you know, that nothing else has entered your mind since last Sunday but my sermon. I had a seminary professor who would make that assumption; he seemed to think we didn't do anything else but attend church history class, and so he would start his lecture off with something like, "In the third place". Not one in ten of us had any idea what the first place and the second place were!
Well, anyhow, today, in the third place: two Sundays ago I asked you to affirm with me that you can't have fear and freedom at the same time – that the liberty, the freedom which God wants to give us He gives us by loving us completely, because, as our theme scripture puts it, "Perfect love casts out fear."
And then last week on the theme of fear and integrity I asked you to delve into your imaginations and to reflect on what was going on the minds of three Old Testament personalities, Abraham, Sarah, and King Abimilech, as we watched people who compromise their integrities out of fear dig deeper graves of fear for themselves. And again we saw, I hope, through the way Abimilech treated those who had lied to him, misled him, that perfect love casts out fear.
Now, in the third place, today, my theme is "Fearing Fear." And we use another absolutely fascinating Old Testament personality to help us look at this issue. I want us to think a bit about Job. Job the sufferer, Job the patient, he is sometimes called, though I am not sure how true that is. Job is described in this magnificent poem in terms of his fears, and I believe we can learn from him about fearing fear.
I have three texts to read; one of my preaching professors used to tell us that if we preached from two texts instead of one, we just doubled our troubles. He would likely turn over in his grave to learn that I have three. But so be it.
The first is from the first chapter of Job, in which the stage is set for the drama. God and the adversary, the Satan angel, have a kind of cosmic wager going. It has to do with whether Job can be trusted, whether Job can be counted on to be what he appears to be when all his rewards are taken away. It's a test, and you and I might think it a cruel test, but there it is – old Job and his disasters. The story of the disasters follows the text I am reading, and I'll not repeat it, but you know about it all the loss of family and servants and property and livestock, everything I guess except his proverbial turkey – you know, poor as Job's turkey – and three friends who make long and ponderous theological speeches at poor suffering Job.
The second text I am going to read is in the third chapter of the book, and it gives us a glimpse inside the state of mind of this poor suffering soul. Let me warn you ahead of time that it is not a pretty sight. This man is hurting. The boils on his legs and the sores in his scalp are nothing compared to the wounds in his spirit. So Job chapter 3 will tell you from the inside what me was feeling.
And then I will conclude with a line from the Psalms, it appears also in Proverbs and several other places, but in its quiet serenity it sums up what I want to say today.
So: three texts, three moods, three insights about fearing fear.
I heard it so often when I was a schoolboy that I think I could just about get the cadence and the accent right, I can still hear in mind President Franklin Delano Roosevelt telling the nation that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." When he uttered that memorable line, during his first inaugural address, he was, of course, talking about our economic plight, telling us that if we would put some trust, some confidence in the new government and in the financial institutions of the country, we might stand a chance of recovering from the Great Depression. But if we allowed ourselves to get caught up in panic and fear and anxiety, well, no law, no president, no banking system would survive.