Who Are You Afraid Of?

  • Nathan Schneider
No Fear written on blue service

I have a number of hobbies that would probably bore all but a small handful of people. Yes, I enjoy some thing that are fairly common…hiking, fishing, camping, etc. But over the last few years I’ve dived into some more “niche” activities. During the 2020 hiatus from all things life and happiness that was COVID, I got into sourdough. I’m happy to report that it’s been over three years since I created my sourdough starter—”Hank,” as we call him—and he’s very much alive and well and we feed off his children regularly.

Now, sourdough might not seem that off the wall for a hobby, and it’s not. But this next one kind of is. Not that no one does it, it’s just a lot more specialized and involved and so it tends to filter out a lot of people from the start. What is this hobby, you ask? Why, reloading ammunition. Are you still there?

It all started last fall when I was desiring to take my moose rifle out to check on how it was fairing and to see if it was still zeroed. But searching around, I quickly came to the alarming realization that I only had a few rounds left. Ammunition shortages had been commonplace for the past several years as manufacturers have struggled to keep up with demands. For my particular rifle—a Browning 338 Winchester Magnum—rounds were not just scarce…they were nonexistent, and they had been for quite some time. In fact, I haven’t seen 338 Win Mag ammunition on the shelf in years, and every ammunition supplier in town that I talked to said the same thing.

Well, what was a guy to do when he wants to shoot but has precious little ammunition spare? Enter the world of reloading. Of course, I did my copious amount of research to understand the process and what I would need, started scoping out available equipment, and then quickly came to a new and more frustrating realization that reloading your own ammunition was not a cheap hobby. Perhaps on the backend, you might save a little bit of money over buying factor ammunition, but the initial investment is hefty—too hefty for my budget at any rate.

However, there was a glimmer of hope in my future. I talked with my father-in-law, who had connections in town and I thought perhaps he might have some equipment of his own or might know where I could get some on the cheap. And boy did he deliver! As it turns out, a neighbor (so to speak) had an uncle who had passed away leaving a sizable amount of stuff behind. My father-in-law had already purchased a number of firearms as the dutiful nephew worked hard to clean up his late-uncle’s property. It just so happened that there was a fully-furnished reloading setup and it was free for the taking.

So, one crisp September afternoon, I followed my father-in-law over to the deceased’s house to procure these precious reloading supplies. This was where the excitement ended and shock settled in. As it turns out, this man who had passed away was, in fact, what you might call a “hoarder.” Actually, there’s no debate about it. The man lived in squaller, with his small house overrun with decades and decades of stuff that had accumulated to the point that the entire house had been swallowed up. Towards the end of the man’s life, he spent the majority of his time in an armchair, eating, sleeping, and watching TV, surrounded by his accumulated possessions as well as an untold number of cats that had long-since made a mess of the carpeted floor.

How bad was this really, you might ask? Well, I entered that property several months after the man had passed away and a good number of things had been cleared out. But whatever had been done before I arrived didn’t seem to put a dent in the mass of boxes and piles that littered every room of this two-story home. The stench of ammonia hung acrid in the air from the cat urine that had soaked into the carpet and padding underneath.

The list of items stored in this house is beyond what I could ever chronicle. However, I do know that he had accumulated hundreds of firearms, and stockpiled hundreds of gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel in his garage. But what caught my interest more than anything was that he had not one but six “bug out bags” sitting in a back room. Now, for those who don’t know what a “bug out bag” is, it’s a bag that contains all the essential gear and items necessary to sustain you for several days in the event that some disaster were to unfold that required you to “bug out” of the house or out of town. Search out “but out bag” online and you’ll discover that this is quite a hot topic among the “prepping” community, who firmly believe that there is an imminent threat of a Red Dawn type situation near in our future.

Now, I understand the idea of having a “bug out bag.” In fact, there’s wisdom in thinking ahead of what you might need in case we experience a cataclysmic event. We live in earthquake country, after all, and being prepared is a part of life. But six bug out bags? That seemed beyond overkill. And when you put that together with the obsessive accumulation of all the other items in the house, all at the cost of personal health and quality of life, it reveals something about the heart.

In truth, there’s any number of things that could drive someone to hoard their possessions in the way that this man did. But factoring in the prepping tendencies evident in the house, it became clear that one of the driving motivations for his behavior was fear—fear of the unknown, of being unprepared, of the world, of people, of lacking the essentials of life.

Fear is a powerful motivator. There’s no question about that. That’s why the Bible has a lot to say about fear. It’s not that fear is bad. It’s that sinful people—that’s you and I, by the way—are bent towards fearing the wrong things. And let’s make no mistake…fear influences how we live. We shape our lives around the things we fear. What things are we talking about here?

  • People: this is what we might call the “fear of man,” and it can show up in surprisingly diverse ways. Of course, it can involve being physically afraid of someone and what they might do to hurt you. But there are far more common and incipient ways of fearing people. Peer pressure is a form of “fear of man.” Being a “people-pleaser” is an expression of fearing people. Being co-dependent on someone else so that you “need” something from someone in order to function—that’s also the fear of man. Caring about what others think of you…that, too, is fear of man. Anything that results from the controlling power of people over your life is a form of the “fear of man.”
  • The unknown: people naturally fear was they don’t know. What will happen tomorrow? What if I lose my job? What if my spouse gets cancer? What if Russia and China invade? All these things remind us that we’re not really in control, and that can be a strong motivator to fear.
  • Death: death is the greatest unknown. For many, it is entered by means of a painful process. But even for a person who dies without pain, fear can still dominate the mind and influence actions. Even while a person may not confess to know God, their conscience testifies against them that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb. 9:27).

Now, contrasted with these improper objects of fear, the Bible teaches that there is one and only one proper object of fear: the Lord. In fact, just the phrase “the fear of the Lord” alone occurs 25 times in the Bible, on top of all the other ways in which fearing the Lord is worded. It’s safe to say that fearing the Lord is central to a proper worldview and a healthy spiritual life.

Now, when we talk about fearing the Lord, we need to clarify what that means and what it doesn’t mean. On the one hand, a believer doesn’t fear the Lord the way an unbeliever should fear the Lord. The unbeliever should fear the Lord because left unchanged, the unbeliever will inevitably incur the wrath of a perfect and holy God whose hatred for sin will consume the sinner in eternal hell forever (Matt. 10:28). But for the believer, sin has been punished fully at the cross in perfect love, and so the believer does not fear God in this way because “fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

So instead of the fear of the Lord leading to dread, the believer’s fear of God is described in these ways:

  • It is the beginning to knowledge, instruction, and wisdom (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33)
  • It is the same as hating evil (Prov. 8:13)
  • It is the same as being wise (Job. 28:28; Ps. 111:10)
  • It is the thing that turns men away from death and destruction (Prob. 14:27)
  • It is part of what sanctifies the believer (Ps. 19:9)
  • It is expressed through reverent fear, as a son to a father (Heb. 12:9, 28)
  • It is necessary in order to truly worship God (Ps. 5:7; 89:7)
  • It is necessary in order to serve God (Ps. 2:11; Heb. 12:28)

In fact, Psalm 112 paints a beautiful picture of the life of the person who fears the Lord, who is “blessed” (= “happy”) because he fears God and delights in God’s law. What does this happy life look like?

  • Blessing spills over to his children (v. 2)
  • He does not need to worry about money because the Lord provides for him (v. 3a)
  • Even more valuable than material wealth is the spiritual wealth bestowed on him from God (v. 3b)
  • God’s deliverance and salvation protects him from the dangers and darkness of this sinful world (v. 4a)
  • God’s very character reflects off of him as he is influenced by God and his Word (v. 4b)
  • He feels free to give generously to those in need (v. 5a)
  • He is motivated to deal with others justly and fairly (v. 5b)
  • He is unshakeable amidst the ups and downs of life so that he develops a reputation for firm resolved confidence in God (v. 6)
  • He doesn’t fear bad news or what disaster may be lurking in the near or far future because he trusts God (v. 7)
  • He firmly hopes in God and isn’t afraid of people, but knows that God will vindicate him before those who would scorn him for his faith (v. 8)
  • He lives in financial and spiritual freedom (v. 9)
  • His life is an emblem of divine blessing and provokes unbelievers to jealous anger (v. 10)

I think the thing that hits me the most about this psalm is that the person who fears the Lord is “happy” because he’s free. Free from the fear of man, free from the fear of the what-if’s of life, free from the slavery of material wealth and dependence on anything other than the Lord. He’s free, and it results in righteousness, blessing, generosity, justice, and ultimately vindication before those who would laugh at him and mock him for his trust in the Lord. He’s a man driven by the only fear that really matters, and that fear releases him from all the fears that might otherwise hold him captive.

We’d being lying if we said we don’t struggle with fear. Everyone fears something in this life. I’m reminded of a passage by Ed Welch on the fear of man when he said,

Don’t think that this is simply a problem for shy, mousy types. Isn’t the angry person or the person who tries to intimidate also controlled by others? Any form of one-upmanship qualifies. What about the business executive who is working to be more productive than an associate in order to get ahead? The endless jockeying of egos in the corporate board room is an aggressive version of fear of man. And do you think that the super-confident, superstar athlete is somehow above seeking the good opinions of fans and sports writers? Aggressively asserting that you don’t need anyone is just as much an evidence of the fear of man as the more timid examples we have seen. Fear of man comes in these packages and many others. Does it include you yet? If not, consider just one word: evangelism. Have you ever been too timid to share your faith in Christ because others might think you are an irrational fool? Gotcha. Fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.” (Ed Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small, 17).

Like I said, everyone fears something in this life. It’s not really the issue whether you fear or don’t fear. It’s what you fear that matters, because the thing that you fear most is the thing that will ultimately control you. The soldier rushes the enemy line in the face of bullets and grenades not because he doesn’t fear death, but because he fears something more than death and that’s what drives him.

The key for all of us, then, is to do a hard and honest look at what we fear most, and to submit all of that to the cross of Christ, the nexus of perfect love and perfect justice, the only place where judgment can actually drive fear away and replace it with awe, adoration, gratitude, trust, and full-hearted commitment to the only person we should—even must—fear: the Lord.