“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18 NASB
Do not be afraid – “. . . the opposite of the believer was not the heretic but the coward.” God commands us not to be afraid. It is an impossible command – if it is understood as an imperative concerning emotions. I can no more command someone not to fear than I can command someone not to let his knee jerk when the doctor hits the right nerve. Emotions are not subject to acts of the will. Control of emotions might fall under the topic of volition, but emotions themselves are much more like a reflex reaction.
Since God is obviously aware of this fact, this verse cannot be about God asking us not to feel. “Do not be afraid” means that He asks us to act according to His truth in spite of how we feel. “And yet God does not need those who praise Him when in a state of euphoria. He needs those who are in love with Him when in distress, both He and ourselves. This is the task: in the darkest night to be certain of the dawn, certain of the power to turn a curse into a blessing; agony into a song. To know the monster’s rage and, in spite of it, proclaim to its face (even a monster will be transfigured into an angel); to go through Hell and to continue to trust in the goodness of God – this the challenge and the way.”
That’s why the opposite of a believer is a coward. A coward is someone who fears in spite to God’s promises. A coward is someone who will not believe, who chooses not to trust in the sovereignty of God. In fact, you might say that anyone who contends with life without trust in God is a coward no matter how heroically we think of them. To fight against the tsunami of evil circling the earth without fighting because of the goodness of God is cowardice. Will such a fight result in righteous acts? Perhaps. But the real hero is the one who refuses to dishonor God’s reputation even if the world is evil. That hero fights not only against the evil in the world but also against the more insidious idolatry that says God is impotent. That hero fights on two fronts, both critical to victory. That is the hero or heroine who can go through Hell and still believe.
“Do not be afraid,” says the living One. But without His promise, without His guarantee, fear is all that I can have. It might motivate me to surmount impossible odds, but my efforts will not change the direction of the world. To act in spite of my fear because I trust in the Lord – that changes the direction.
Topical Index: fear, emotions, trust, coward, hero, Revelation 1:17-18