There are moments when we all remember where we were: life-and-death moments that stop us in our tracks and throw the order of our lives into chaos. Often we carry such moments with us. The fear they produce affects us in ways we don’t often realize. This fear has the power to shape our decision-making and determine where we place our trust.
Fear is part of life.
Psalm 34 teaches us that what matters is not that we fear but who we fear. The fear of God does not terrorize or cripple us. The fear of God is a fear that frees us. Instead of living in fear of the chaos of the world, we are free to live in courage, relying not on our own strength but on God’s. Throughout history, the fear of God has compelled people to act not out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but out of love for God and others.
On September 11, 2001, it was fear of the power wielded by the United States that led terrorists to hijack planes, taking thousands of lives. But it was the fear of God that convicted Father Daniel Murphy, whose brother was killed in the World Trade Center that day, to say from the pulpit, “My brother’s life is too precious for me to be ruled by anger, hatred, and feelings of revenge.”
It was fear that led men to torture and murder 14-year-old Emmett Till in the summer of 1955. But it was the fear of God that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to the steps of the United States Capitol, calling for equality, in 1963.
It was fear that fed Hitler’s campaign of genocide against Jews, disabled persons, and anyone whose lives the Third Reich did not deem worthy. But it was the fear of God that convicted Dietrich Bonhoeffer to vocally oppose the Holocaust, even though it meant losing his life.
Forgiveness, standing up for others, giving one’s life: these are a few of the acts of courage done by Christians who chose to surrender their fears and place their trust in God. When God looks at the injustice and pain in the world and asks us, “Where were you?” how will we respond?
In the story of Job, there’s a memorable point where God asks, “Where were you?” In Job 38, following Job’s lengthy lament and his friends’ theologizing, God responds out of a storm. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when I began a process of creation so astonishing that the stars sang and angels shouted?” God is asking Job, “How dare you place your trust, your fears, in anyone or anything other than me?”
Trusting God and surrendering our fears to him is not a one-time decision but a long obedience in the same direction.