The Anatomy of Anxiety, Part 5: Why Am I Afraid?
What Is the Biblical Portrait of Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?
John tells us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).
The word John uses for “fear” is “phobos.” It is used 138 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, the number one New Testament command is, “Fear not!”
In a positive sense, phobos can mean reverence, awe, respect, and honor.
In a negative usage, it means terror, apprehension, alarm, and arousal to flee. In Matthew 28:4, we have a word picture of phobos/phobia. When the Angel of the Lord appears, the guards fear and fall like dead men. Thus here it is used of paralysis of action.
In Luke 21:26, phobos relates to uncertain expectations, terror, apprehension that fears the “What next!?”
In Romans 8:15, phobos has the idea of slavish terror as Paul reminds us that we have been given a spirit of sonship, confidence, and relational acceptance, not a spirit of slavish terror about relational rejection.
Fear of Ultimate Rejection
John is quite specific in his portrait as he says fear has to do with punishment. Punishment means rejection, separation, condemnation—to be left as a loveless orphan, to be abandoned as a helpless child.
To understand John fully, we must go back one verse. In 1 John 4:17, John says that “love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment.”
Confidence is openness, frankness, boldness, assurance, concealing nothing, no hiding, no shame, no fear. It is the courage to come boldly before the throne of grace—because of grace! It is the courage to express myself freely and openly in relationship because I know there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
So What Is Phobia, Fear, and Anxiety?
So, how does the Bible picture and define anxiety, fear, and phobia? We might summarize it like this:
“Phobia is paralyzing apprehension causing me to flee what I fear or to become paralyzed when facing my fear because I doubt my relational acceptance and security, because I doubt God’s grace. My ultimate fear is fear of rejection by God. That fear is the cause of all other fears in life.”
What do I fear?
“I fear God, but not in the sense of reverence and awe. I fear God’s rejection because I refuse to place faith in God’s gracious acceptance of me in Christ.”
Why am I afraid?
“If the God of the universe rejects me, then I’m on my own. And If I’m on my own, life is too much for me.”
Making It Real
Let’s make it real-life practical. Phobia/phobos/fear/anxiety makes me feel like:
*“Life is unsafe. It’s too hard for me.”
*”If I cry out for help, no one will respond. If I reach up to God, He won’t care because He has rejected me. He is ashamed of me and I am ashamed in His presence.”
*”I won’t be protected. There’s no one who cares and no one who is in control. No one is flying this plane!”
*”I am orphaned and left alone because no one cares about me. Therefore, I have to make life work on my own.”
*”But I’m small, childlike, inadequate. I can’t overcome the 800-pound gorilla of life. While I must face life alone, life is too much for me to face.”
So How Do We Diagnose Fear?
Phobias, fear, worries, and anxiety signify my failure to grasp and apply God’s powerful promise of gracious acceptance and protection. Fear and anxiety are caused by my refusal to accept my acceptance in Christ. If I believe Satan’s lying, condemning narrative, then I am left with no option other than trusting in myself. And I am far too small to handle life on my own.
Fear becomes a vicious cycle. Fearing God’s rejection, I reject God’s help, and I end up feeling helpless to face life.
The Rest of the Story: There Has to Be a Better Way
There has to be a better way, don’t you think? I sure hope so!
John gives us that better way when he tells us that “perfect love casts our all fear” (1 John 4:18).