Fear and the Sovereignty of God
“God is in control.” These words can be a wonderful comfort to people struggling with common phobias, natural fears, or even deep-seated terrors. The reminder that God is in control often brings great relief.
But there are times when the words “God is in control” might make matters worse. A terrified Christian may have already wrestled with the fact that God is sovereign, and come to the misguided conclusion that God is punishing him, or worse, that God has abandoned him. At the root of such fear and anxiety is not likely the issue of whether God is in control (a doctrine most Christians readily accept), but why God would allow Christians to feel uncertainty and dread. The awareness of God’s sovereignty may not be a source of relief in every case—only another source of doubt, frustration, and fear. Fear can do this to people, even Christians.
There are two points to consider about confronting our fears in the light of God’s sovereignty. The first is to consider those biblical passages (there are many) which tell us what it means for God to be “in control.” When we have a good (or better) grasp of God’s control over all things, we discover that nothing which comes to pass is random or outside the will of God. The psalmist reminds us, “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth” (Ps. 135:5-6). In Proverbs, we read that God’s sovereignty extends even to seemingly incidental things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33). This information is given to remind us that nothing outside the will of God can happen to us.
God knows when a sparrow falls from the sky, and if He cares for them, how much more does He care for us? (Matt. 6:26). Paul tells us that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), and James states, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). James adds, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). God does not tempt us (or cause us to be afraid), He gives us all good things, and He promises to turn everything (even our fears) to our good.
This short list of biblical passages reminds us that any fear we may be facing can bring God glory, be turned by God to our ultimate good, and grant us needed reassurance when we are afraid. Scripture calms our fears by reminding us that God is our heavenly Father who loves us and cares for us even when we fear Him, or dread His sovereign purposes. He still loves us even when we are afraid that He doesn’t.
The second thing to consider is that if anyone believed in God’s absolute sovereignty, it was Jesus. The Gospels reveal that even though Jesus knew God’s purpose in advance and that the outcome to His suffering would be a glorious triumph over death and the grave, He nevertheless felt both fear and anxiety before the ordeal of the cross. In the resolution of Jesus’ fear and anxiety we can find great relief for our own.
In Matthew 26:36–38, we read “Jesus went … to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’” Jesus also said, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’” Then He prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done’” (vv. 41–42). In Luke’s account, the extent of Jesus’ fear is revealed: “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Fear and anxiety are not necessarily sin—that Jesus was anxious before His suffering upon the cross proves this to be the case. Fear of pain or danger is quite natural. Yet in the midst of Jesus’ anxiety in Gethsemane, He nevertheless trusted His Father to see Him through the horrific ordeal to come. Jesus may sweat drops of blood, but He drinks the cup of wrath to save us from our sins. Remarkably, Jesus is an example to us when we are afraid, and His suffering and death removes any guilt we may have for doubting God’s promises or for fearing His approach or purposes. Jesus died for our all sins, including all sinful fear.
Even better, we have a great high priest, who never sleeps nor slumbers, and who knows what it is like for us to experience fear and anxiety. It is Jesus to whom we pray when we are afraid, and it is Jesus who prays for us, even as we pray to Him (Heb. 4:14–16). This is what it means when we say “God is in control.”