What does all this have to do with our fears? Much in every way, as Paul might say. If you really are “the master of your fate and the captain of your soul,” as the poem puts it, then everything is riding on you. Don’t crash.
Not only do we have more stuff than ever—and therefore more than ever to lose—but we’ve promoted ourselves to a position for which we’re embarrassingly underqualified. The job description included omnicompetence, and we were arrogant enough to think we’d be a good fit. So we spend our days playing God, trying to figure out the dials while steering the ship.
No wonder we’re paranoid.
So what is the answer to our dilemma? How can we disentangle ourselves from the fears that won’t leave us alone? One answer is the doctrine of inerrancy. Yes, inerrancy. Simply put, if your Bible is not wholly true, then you should be terrified. Why? Because if your Bible is not wholly true, then you have no reason to trust that the One in charge of your life is both great and good.
I’m so grateful that my college campus minister, Dan Flynn, loved to emphasize these twin truths from Scripture. “God can and God cares,” he would say. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but in those simple words he was distinguishing biblical Christianity from every religion on the market. Protestant liberalism, for example, offers a God who is good but not great. He cares, but He can’t. He’s a nice buddy, an experienced life coach, even a world-class psychotherapist, but ultimately He’s just “the man upstairs.” Meanwhile, other religions such as Islam offer the opposite: a God who is great but not entirely good. A God who can, but perhaps doesn’t care.
But when we open our Bibles, something unprecedented happens. It’s stunning, really. We encounter a living Lord who is both great and good, sovereign and kind, who can and who cares.
If God were only good, I would go to bed frightened. How could I worship someone who, bless His heart, means well and is doing His best? But I would likewise go to bed frightened if He were only sovereign. What assurance is there in knowing He’s mighty if He’s not merciful? What comfort is there in a deity who doesn’t care about us?
Most of our anxieties are species of one great fear: the fear of man. We’re terrified of being rejected, embarrassed, finally exposed for who we really are.
In his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, the late American novelist David Foster Wallace captured this universal, even primal, human dynamic. Wallace was not a Christian, and yet his words struck a profound spiritual chord:
The compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, and you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, and you will end up feeling like a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is . . . they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
Paralyzing fears over poverty and aging and weakness and exposure and countless other threats are due, ultimately, to disordered doxology. Our worship is misplaced. Rather than enjoying God in His rightful place—the sun around which everything in life orbits—we have dislodged Him and replaced Him with a mirror. Without Him as our gravitational center, everything spins off in a thousand directions. Such is the insanity of idolatry. No wonder life feels so chaotic, so exhausting.
According to the Scriptures, we fear man so much because we fear God so little. Fearing the Lord is the ultimate key to understanding (Prov. 1:7) and the antidote to anxiety.
To be clear, we don’t fear Him because He’s mean but because He is holy. He’s not a dictator or traffic cop in the sky; He’s the Lord of love. He is beautiful. As the Puritan John Flavel observed, “Godly fear does not arise from a perception of God as hazardous, but glorious.” The One who made us and saved us is worth our esteem, our reverence, our awe. And the counterintuitive beauty of grace is that His forgiveness woos us into even greater fear (Ps. 130:4).