Monday, August 05, 2013

TorahBytes: The Nature of Fear (Shofetim)

And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, "Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own." (Devarim / Deuteronomy 20:8; ESV)

I am so grateful for how God has helped me in the area of fear. A long time ago, when I was about 19 years old, I was having terrible and regular panic attacks. It was then that I first heard about Yeshua being the Messiah. After being shown how the prophesies in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) clearly point to him (see, I asked God to forgive my sins and welcomed Yeshua into my heart and life. The panic attacks stopped.

It was quite disconcerting when, several months later, I found myself facing again debilitating fear. I originally had been given a false promise that faith in Yeshua was a guarantee of continual happiness, but now old fears rose up to intimidate me. I was due to go away on a trip. The excitement of anticipation prevented me from sleeping much, and my upbringing misinformed me that any attempt to function after such a night was futile. Should I dare to travel, sickness or death was assured (when I talk like this, I am aware that those familiar with this kind of fear completely understand and sympathize, while those who are not, don't. Oh well, that's the way it was, and whoever you are, if you stick with me, you might be surprised to see where this is going).

As I lay in bed, terrified of the prospects before me, the thought came to me, if I don't go on this trip, I'll never go anywhere again. I don't know how accurate a prediction that was, but you get the point. So I went. The long travel day was difficult due to the oppressive nature of the anxiety, and I didn't sleep the next night either. But then everything changed, and I had the time of my life. I don't have time here to go into the details, but I had such a sense of God's presence for the remainder of the time away such as I had never experienced before (but have experienced many times since).

It was the first time in my life I pushed through fear, something I have had to do many times since. Almost every time I do, when I look back, I feel foolish for whatever it was that was spawning my anxiety. I wish my battle with fear would cease, but until then I will continue to be grateful to God for helping me to live in spite of it.

The verse I read at the beginning may seem to undermine my experience as if the presence of fear is reason enough not to engage whatever it is we are afraid of. Sounds like Moses is saying, when facing a battle, if you are afraid, don't push through, go home, lest you discourage the others.

But what is the nature of the fear that Moses is addressing? Is he saying that feelings of anxiety automatically disqualify someone? Is it better, therefore, to accept the weakness of my heart and stay away from those things that intimidate me?

I have come to see that fear is not fundamentally an emotion. It's an attitude and an action that may or may not manifest itself emotionally. A truly fearful person may not feel afraid at all. Their decision not to engage the things they are afraid of may be made long before any feelings of fear kick in. People who are truly afraid can sound very calm and reasonable as they cause the hearts of other to melt, to use Moses' words. On the other hand, we might have all sorts of feelings about life's challenges, but we don't have to be afraid of them. Instead, we can press through, choosing not to discourage others with our fears, but rather trust God.

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