Fear and anxiety are having a field day in 2020. What a year it has been! I sincerely doubt any of us will soon forget the jarring events of this year, and the strange numbness that isolation and social distancing and masks and the inability to assemble together with the church has produced in so many. Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic has been the economic effects felt by so many; so many small businesses have been shuttered, so many people have been thrust out of work, so much uncertainty about the world economy in the future remains. Then there is the social impact of the pandemic—the fact that so many of the varied ingredients that enrich our lives have been eradicated: graduations, weddings, funerals, family reunions, sporting events, outings, picnics, holiday celebrations, etc. etc. etc. Beyond all this has come the devastation of race relations through the death of George Floyd, ripping open the historic wound of our nation. The loud demonstrations, with their anarchy and destruction and violence has underscored the fierceness with which many see inherent racism in our culture. And all this is occurring in a Presidential election year. It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that I can never remember such polarization and rhetorical rudeness in politics in my adult life. I am sure the 60s were this polarized (if not more) and the 1860 Presidential Election far more contentious than this one will be. I seriously doubt the outcome of this election will lead to Civil War like that one did.
But these are certainly trying times. And they can push the soul vigorously toward fear and anxiety, and even spiritual depression if we’re not careful. I want to urge all of you to fight fear and anxiety with faith. Faith is what is given in the Word of God as the direct remedy to fear.
I first saw this strong connection between faith as the opposite to fear in a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk by the great Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was entitled From Fear to Faith. In that little three-chapter book in the Old Testament, the Jewish prophet Habakkuk cries out to the Lord about the social injustice he saw in his day… crimes, bribes of judges, corruption at the highest level of society, violence. God tells him that he is going to solve those problems by bringing the Babylonians to invade and destroy Judah and Jerusalem. Habakkuk is shocked… its “out of the frying pan into the fire.” God is going to use even more godless and violent men (the Babylonian soldiers) to kill the wicked of his own people. He doesn’t understand what God is doing. So, he tells God he is going to station himself on the ramparts of prayer, waiting for God to give him an answer to this searing question: “What in the world are you doing, O God?!”
Habakkuk 2 gives a multi-faceted answer. First, God tells him about the individual person: the “righteous will live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). This is the very verse quoted by the Apostle Paul to describe justification by faith. In the midst of all the turmoil and uncertainty, God is able to save any and all individuals who will come to him humbly and in faith. For us, that means trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. He is our righteousness, he is our refuge from the true danger—the wrath of God coming on the world for its sins. Individual salvation comes down to this… and it is by far the most important issue. The nations will come and go… but human souls will last forever, either in heaven or in hell. To be righteous on Judgment Day, before the holy eyes of a God who cannot look on evil (Hab. 1:13), is all that will matter eternally. If we trust in Christ, we will survive that Great Day and spend eternity with him in heaven.
"Faith is what is given in the Word of God as the direct remedy to fear."
Secondly, God exposes what is happening on planet earth. The wicked seek to build empires out of their own power and strength. The wicked in Jerusalem were doing that. The godless Babylonians would do that. Indeed, all the godless people in history to some degree live to build temporary empires of prosperity and power and pleasures and possessions through godless means. But God speaks a word of prophetic “Woe!” upon all these worldly empires… one after the other rises up to take over the Earth. But woe to them all: “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people's labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing (Hab. 2:12-13)?” All these wicked godless empires—whether they are military or economic—since they are built by evil means will come crashing down. God has decreed against them, and he will extend his hand to pull them down.
Finally, God shows Habakkuk what is really happening on planet Earth. Day after day, God is building his kingdom, a kingdom that will be radiant with his glory for all eternity. The reason that the nations who are laboring to build worldly empires will fail is that God’s kingdom will level all competing regimes: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14)! This faith has the power to drive away all fear and anxiety! God is at work every single day. He is using sickness, and poverty, and social upheaval, and worldly distress to cause people to flee these temporary idols and find life in Christ. Therefore, even the sorrows we most dread in life are tools in the hand of our loving Father to shape us and fit us for eternity… getting us ready to walk in resurrected bodies to see the glory of a resurrected world: the New Heavens and New Earth.
"...even the sorrows we most dread in life are tools in the hand of our loving Father to shape us and fit us for eternity..."
The more we focus on these truths by faith, the more joyful we can be even when earthly circumstances cause us great pain. The prophet Habakkuk got the message. He finished his short prophecy with these stirring words:
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights (Hab. 3:17-19)."
**Editor's Note: If you found this article helpful, you may also enjoy Andy's class Battling Anxiety & Fear in the Power of the Gospel.