My daughter loves to be afraid. She rides the craziest, twistiest, highest roller coasters; has bungee-jumped headfirst off a 300-foot tower; and skydived out of an airplane last week. She reads scary novels, watches horror movies, and loves a ghost story around the campfire on a moonlit night. She’s not alone. We’re a culture who loves fear. Zombie movies, Stephen King novels, 3D amusement park rides—all best-sellers. We simply love to have the wits scared out of us.
Why is that? In a world that offers its fair share of worry, why would we seek out fear? According to Ilya Leybovich in his article “Scary Science: Why We Like Fear,” when our brains know that our fear is in a controlled situation, we enjoy the rush. The adrenaline rush is actually good activity for our brains, according to Men’s Health Magazine, which says that when we train our brains with controlled fear and stress, we teach our bodies to cope with the real stress that life brings. When we meet real fear, our response is “fight or flight.” The adrenaline we release when we are scared causes “a faster heart rate, quickened breath, pupil dilation to enable better vision, an increased metabolism to boost energy and more focused attention for faster decision-making.” Our survival relies on this adrenaline rush. We either put up our dukes or leave a puff of smoke behind us.
While we like the adrenaline that controlled fear brings us, none of us likes the real fear in our lives. The phone call about your teenager out with the car; the summons to the physician’s office after the MRI; that rumor about the forthcoming layoff; the letter from the bank about the loan payment you haven’t been able to make; the “thanks for coming to be interviewed but we’ve hired someone else” email. Many of us experience anxiety, paranoia, and angst on a daily basis. It doesn’t help that the media heaps on large doses of war, natural disasters, and crime, or that advertisers tell us we haven’t saved enough, exercised enough, or given our children what they truly deserve. We feel guilt, regret, and shame, all forms of innermost fear.
The Bible is full of stories in which people are scared. In fact, one of the most popular phrases in the Bible, showing up over 300 times, is some form of “Be not afraid,” indicating that people must have been pretty scared! God says it. Angels sing it. Psalmists write it. What usually follows “Be not afraid” is good news: the angels speaking to the shepherds, or God’s instructions to Moses, or the psalmists’ words of comfort.
I’m comforted to know that I never have to be afraid. My life is in God’s hand. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’ ” These words in Jeremiah are a form of “Be not afraid.”
Maybe you’re afraid of the upcoming college year or your child moving to a different state or a secret being revealed. The words of Psalm 91 should be of comfort to you. Read it each day this week, and feel God’s presence beside you in whatever journey you are on.
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”
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Ron DeBoer is a writer and educator living near Toronto, Ontario