Fear and Forgetfulness
Fear feeds on forgetfulness. It thrives on our spiritual amnesia, our forgetting who God is and what He has done (2 Peter 1:9). We forget God’s faithfulness to us in the past. We forget His steadfast love, mercy, and grace. We forget all He has done for us in Christ. As a result, we feel alone, lost, helpless, and afraid.
The psalmists often felt fear. In Psalm 31, David is in distress because his enemies were threatening him. Listen to David’s cries for help when he writes:
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! . . . Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away. (vv. 2, 9–10)
But David knows what to do when he faces fear. He knows that he must remind himself of God’s faithfulness to him in the past, saying:
Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. (vv. 21–22)
And so, the psalm begins with fear, settles into the remembrance of God’s mercy and then ends with hope:
Love the Lord, all his faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to him, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. (vv. 23–24 NIV)
Psalm 31 illustrates a key theme in the Psalms—remembering and singing to one another of God’s goodness and faithfulness in the face of fear. The Psalms speak of God’s steadfast love, His salvation, His justice, and His mercy. They recount stories of what God has done for His often-fearful people, especially recounting the Israelites’ great story of rescue—their exodus from slavery in Egypt.
Remembering God’s goodness and faithfulness is important for us as well. On this side of redemptive history, we have our exodus—Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. Like David, we also need to remind ourselves over and over of what God has done. We need to preach to ourselves the gospel story as a weapon against our fears.
As important as it is for us to remember God’s faithfulness, our safety in fear doesn’t depend upon our ability to remember. It’s not as though God comes to rescue us from our fears only when we think on Him. It’s not as though God stands off to the side, waiting for us to remember His promises, steadfast love, and faithfulness. It’s not as though the very act of remembering somehow causes God to move in our lives. Instead, remembering gives us peace and joy, opening our eyes to see what is already true. Remembering encourages us to hope in Christ.
Yes, we should remember. God calls us to remember. But even so, there will be times when we forget and when we turn our eyes away from Christ to the fears that surround us. The amazing truth is that whether we remember God’s faithfulness or not, God always remembers us. He never forgets His covenant commitment to us in Christ. As Spurgeon once wrote,
Oh! it is not my remembering God, it is God’s remembering me which is the ground of my safety; it is not my laying hold of His covenant, but His covenant’s laying hold on me. . . . My looking to Jesus brings me joy and peace, but it is God’s looking to Jesus which secures my salvation and that of all His elect. . . . We should remember the covenant, and we shall do it, through divine grace; but the hinge of our safety does not hang there—it is God’s remembering us, not our remembering Him.
Fear is something we all face at one time or another. When it comes calling, remember who God is and what He has done. But even if you forget, rest in the fact that God will never forget or forsake His own. And that is good news for every fearful heart.