In my own life, fear seems to feed on lies. I suspect I’m not alone in that. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of an intense nightmare or stressful dream, and there will be this moment in between sleep and lucidity when it’s hard to tell what is real. An innocent shadow or a noise can be interpreted as a threat, and fear can grow. It’s true that there is a shadow, there is a noise. And it’s true that there could be a threat and a reason to fear. But the more I wake out of the sleepy, dreamy state, the more I realize the truth: those things are not actually a threat. There’s no reason to be afraid.
The difference between what is true and what is false matters greatly when it comes to fear. For instance, in Numbers 13:17–14:24, It’s true that there were many legitimate reasons to be afraid. Those who gave a report said, “The land we passed through to explore is one that devours its inhabitants…” (Numbers 13:32) and therefore assumed, “we can’t attack the people…” (v.31). The facts they reported represented only a part of the truth. It was true that without God, it would’ve been impossible for the people to go in and possess the land.
It’s painful to watch the people turn on Moses, Aaron, and the others who had served them in the wilderness. Their fear overwhelmed them until they almost turned their backs on both their leaders and God (Numbers 14:1–4,10). But what about the larger picture of their experience with God in wilderness? Was He not with them? Did He not protect them? Because of their fear, they had forgotten who God was and the promises He had already made and kept (vv.22–23).
The heart and character of God exposes lies for what they are by the power of a greater truth. Our reading from Jeremiah says it like this, “Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways” (Jeremiah 32:19). Because God is just, He corrects lies and reveals the truth. When we bring our fears and the threats that trigger them into the presence of God in prayer, Scripture tells us that this fear is overwhelmed by the greater truth that God is with us (Philippians 4:6–7).
The threats don’t have to go away in order for the fear to be quieted. Instead, they need to be named in the presence of God. He will slowly wake us back up into reality, sorting out the truth from the lies. And then we find, yes, there are good reasons to fear, but they are not as much of a threat as we may think. Because God, who is “slow to anger and abounding in faithful love” is right here with us (Numbers 14:18).