“Quick. What is, by far, God’s most frequent command?” (59).
Of course, it is meant to be a surprising answer, and, also, a predictable one: “Do not be afraid.” Welch offers a litany of texts here, which I tried to read carefully, heeding his admonition in the beginning of the book not to skip over the most important words (i.e., the words of God).
Here are some of the points Welch makes at the beginning of the chapter:
“The sheer number of times he speaks to your fears says that he cares much more than you know” (61) and, “The way he repeats himself suggests that he understands how intractable fears and anxieties can be” (62). And, as Welch aptly points out, these “are the words of the One who can match speech with action” (62). Also, Fear is impatient, Welch notes. We must recognize that “one of the first steps in combating fear and worry is to slow down” (63).
All of this leads Welch into “The Proposal”:
Let fear point us to the knowledge of God, and let the Spirit of God by way of Scripture, teach us the knowledge of God. When fear is the problem, our typical approach is to follow action steps. If we are on our spiritual game, we can pray with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6), we can cast our cares on him (1 Peter 5:7), or we can heed his command to not be afraid. These are good things, but they are responses to our growing knowledge of God. The knowledge of God comes first. Apart from this personal knowledge, Scriptural advice is no different from the thought stoppage or imaginary vacations that secular treatments offer (64).
This helps me, because I have done the “spiritual things” Welch mentions here. I have meditated on Philippians 4 and 1 Peter 5 bunches of times. However, this book is helping me to connect these things with the personal knowledge Welch describes. I wrote a paper last fall about the Fatherhood of God in the theology of John Calvin. The basic point was that many theologians have missed this fundamental theme in Calvin’s theology. But, of course, writing a paper and having personal knowledge of God as Father can be (and in fact have been) two different things. Reading this book has been helping me connect my intellectual theology of God as Father into a personal knowledge that trains my heart toward trusting.
This point comes up in the next section of this chapter, titled, “‘Do Not Be Afraid,’ and what that says about God.” I wrote next to the title “not us”. Here Welch does a brief exposition of Luke 12:32: “[Jesus said] ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Welch says, “Jesus is invoking kingly imagery, indeed. But the One who sits on the throne is the Father, and that changes everything” (65). Three points come out of this verse:
- God is our Father. If you are a Christian, you have been adopted in the Son, and now have a Father in God. This is seen pointedly in the Prodigal Son story. I have already mentioned the importance of this point above, so I won’t rehash it again.
- God is the King. God not only loves us like a Father, he has the power and authority, as the King, to accomplish his purposes. Welch says, “If [God] is going to speak effectively to your fears, he must be both loving and strong, and indeed he is” (67). Here is where I think I have fallen into a defective theology of sovereignty at times. I can view God as so sovereign, that he no longer loves as a Father, but solely decrees as a Dictator. This, of course, is wrong, and I know it’s wrong. But, still, I can functionally fall into this pit when anxiety overwhelms me.
- God is generous. “God gives,” Welch says, “out of his pleasure and delight” (68). Such is the nature of our God. Often, as Welch points out, I have seen in myself the tendency not to feel this truth. Scripture, however, must trump my feelings. I am working on this one, because emotions often win the internal arm-wrestling match in my mind.
The personal response at the end of the chapter is a prayer, which is worth quoting (and praying):
God, open my ears. I don’t clearly hear your care and compassion when you tell me not to worry or be afraid, but I know they are there. Father, open my eyes. I act like I see all reality. I act like I can see even more than you do. But I am seeing now that there is an entire world that is blurry to me, and that world is you. It is you I don’t see well. I want to trust in what you say and see the things you have revealed. That leaves me no choice but to start with humility. This is the way all journeys with you begin. Please teach me humility so that what you say overrules what I feel.
That is a profound point at the end – that overruling emotion indicates pride. I won’t get ahead of myself, but I have a good story related to pride from reading the next chapter in the book. Lord willing, tomorrow, I will tell you that story.