Fear of the Future
by Edward Welch
All fears are prophecies about the future. They start small—a robber might steal your bike, the boogieman will eat you before the night is over—and they grow from there. These fears need help, however, to go global and apocalyptic.
I grew up during a time that supplied that help. I was in elementary school during the height of the Red Scare. The Late Great Planet Earth was a bestseller, and the media reported on the worst of global affairs. Given that fertile soil, no Christian needed imagination to envision the Red Army using demonic devices to detect that you were a Christian, and eager to take you through the worst torture until you renounced Jesus or died. It was, I thought, the worst of times.
Then I grew up and realized that every era is, indeed, the worst of times. The truth is that we always have help to take our fears global. There is always a new threat.
Here are some common fears from a list that can be endless:
- Fear of the utter moral collapse of the surrounding culture
- Fear of economic collapse and chaos
- Fear of Islamic extremists
- Fear of resistant viruses, plagues, hazardous chemicals, and so on.
TWO POPULAR LINES OF DEFENSE
How can we ward off these fears? One line of defense is to be rational, to let data and facts assuage the fears. Consider, for example, Islamic extremists. Since most religions grow by way of parents who pass on the faith to their children, the statistics suggest that there will be no Islamic majority in the foreseeable future because there are simply more Christians than Muslims right now, and even a sudden surge in the size of an average Islamic family will not make that much difference for the foreseeable future. Fear relieved.
A second defense against these fears is to imagine the worst and get prepared. Warn others, build a bunker, or simply keep imagining the worst as if that will be a talisman when the worst shows up.
These defenses, of course, are but temporary comforts. We cannot trust in data, the odds being in our favor, or our personal preparation. We trust in a Person. Any response to distant fears that emphasizes information and preparation over trust is ungodly to its core. Information and education are not wrong, but they are not our first response. God’s people turn to Him first: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).
WE WILL RECEIVE GRACE
As we turn to the Lord, we first consider the greatest promise of all: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Our sins are what keep us from our God, but now the perfect High Priest has made the perfect sacrifice and, having made atonement for sins, He sat down. Sacrifice for sin is done. We are guaranteed His presence. We will not face our fears alone.
Included in this promise is that He will give us the daily grace we need. The Old Testament image behind this is the gift of manna. It was enough for the day but not to be stockpiled for tomorrow lest we trust in our stockpiles. Tomorrow will find new mercies, fresh manna, and abundant grace.
That grace will empower us to rest in God and stand firm in the face of whatever suffering or temptation the world can muster, in the face of whatever fear that has come true (1 Cor. 10:13). His presence assures us that we will “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). All we have to do is ask.
Promised grace renders our fearful forecasts obsolete. Even if we are right in our predictions, which we usually are not, we cannot predict the grace that will be poured out on us on that future day. Instead, we envision the future with the grace we have for today’s hardships, and that grace is sufficient only for today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow will show up with a new stockpile of grace.
RETELL THE STORY
With this future grace in view, we retell the story of our lives and the story of history. Consider Psalm 23, for example, as a template. We become, by faith, the sheep of the Lord. Joy and rest are the order of the day. But sheep have to stay on the move, and that journey will include trouble, as we witnessed when the Lamb of God submitted to His Shepherd on the same path. The trouble can be intense. It can include Assyria, Rome, and other threats that can kill us. But the story does not end there. Our enemies will watch from a distance as we sit around the banquet table of God. They will be shamed; we will be family with the Honored One. As we walk to the house of the Lord, fearing no evil, we pray that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). And the pilgrimage takes us to the house of God, where His will is done continually. The story of Scripture always ends well.
Indeed, life and history end gloriously for God’s people, and while we look toward that end, we predict this: the grace of God can pursue us in such a way that we fear evil less and less.