BCC Staff: This post is the first of a three-part series on helping people who might struggle with fear and worry that is fueled by what they hear on the daily news. Jeff Forrey offers suggested counsel based on 1 Peter. In this first part, he gives an overview of 1 Peter’s relevance for the topic of fear and then applies the first principle for facing fear to “Bill’s” situation.
The Internet has flooded the world with information. Although this has broadened people’s understanding of the world beyond their communities, it has also provided them with wave after wave of frightening stories. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, people can be exposed to the ways in which sin rips apart God’s world. Consequently, in an unprecedented way, Christians are being tempted with fear and worry. For example:
- Parents might be anxious about the implications of recent transgender restroom policies in school.
- Concerned voters might fret about the adequacy of any of the candidates for the upcoming election.
- Travelers might be very uneasy when they see people of Middle Eastern descent boarding their airplane.
- Investors might cringe with uncertainty as news outlets tell them that the value of their investments is dropping dramatically due to factors outside their control.
Helping the Fearful with 1 Peter
If you sense this type of fear among the people in your congregation, how might you help them process this experience biblically? One possibility is to use 1 Peter. This letter is valuable for addressing fear, because it was written to believers who may have had to relocate to the outer edges of the Roman Empire due to persecution during Nero’s reign. Fear, confusion, and uncertainty could have been daily experiences for these people. In his letter, Peter specifically mentions these occasions in which fear might overwhelm his readers:
- Christian slaves having to respond to harsh masters (2:18–22)
- Christian wives having to respond to husbands who “do not believe the word” (3:1–6)
- Christian citizens having to respond to pagan neighbors who “heap abuse” on them for not joining them in “reckless, wild living” (4:1–4; see also 2:11–12)
How were they supposed to understand God’s relationship to their frightening trials? Peter’s letter spells out an answer to this question both for those first-century believers and for us twenty-first-century believers.
First Peter Offers Surprising Ways to Understand Frightening Situations
Our emotions have God-given purposes, and yet they are also subject to perversion by our sinfulness. Fear is the emotion that motivates us to ensure our safety when faced with a perceived or assumed threat. To ignore it would be foolish, generally speaking. Thus, “the prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty” (Prov. 22:3). Because fear is natural, our goal in ministering to fearful people is not necessarily to eliminate all of their fears, but rather to help them understand threatening circumstances in new ways. When Christians look at difficult situations in the context of God’s mercy and calling, surprising conclusions can be reached. If we are successful in helping fearful people with this process, they will find that some of their fears do vanish, but even those fears that remain won’t be overwhelming and won’t paralyze them from honoring God with their lives.
If you take Peter’s lead, then you can help fearful people by emphasizing the following lessons from this letter. After describing these truths, I will offer illustrations of how they can be used with different people.
Truth #1: We have a “living hope” because of Jesus’ resurrection
“In his great mercy he [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3, emphasis added). Though we live in a fallen world—in which terrorism, robbery, identity theft, rudeness, callousness, deception, etc., are all too common—the resurrection of Jesus changes the way we look at and live in the world. As believers, we have experienced a “new birth,” and with the new birth comes a “living hope”—a hope that is real, active, and vibrant, a hope that springs out of the reality of Jesus’ triumphal resurrection from the dead.
Jesus’ victory over the grave means there certainly will be a blessed future for us. The resurrection tears apart the pagan perspective that generates fearful reactions to actual or potential threats. With the ungodly perspective, there are no real, active, vibrant assurances about the future. So, from this perspective, hearing, seeing, and reading news reports about terrorism, outbreaks of disease, and government corruption only produce more uncertainty and more helplessness, and that in turn generates more fear.
The hope we have in Jesus forces us to look at such frightening trials differently. All of God’s promises to His people are confirmed to be real and true because Jesus was resurrected. If the greatest enemy (death) has been defeated, then all lesser enemies (fires, injuries, illnesses, victimization, etc.) must be no match for the Lord. Of course, this does not mean we are necessarily shielded from skirmishes with these trials. But it does mean, if God so wills, that we can enter the skirmishes with a confident and eager expectation that any suffering we might have to endure cannot last; it must be temporary, and it must conform to the ultimate purposes of God. (It’s sort of like telling a child who needs a vaccination that it will be only a brief pinch, but will ultimately keep him from getting a sickness.)
Applying this truth in Bill’s life
Bill read a news report online that his company is involved in corporate fraud. Now he’s worried about potential losses in his stock portfolio. He is about ten years from a desired retirement, and these losses might be significant enough that he’s no longer sure he can retire. Bill could be reminded of Peter’s emphasis on our living hope. Hope, by its very nature, has to do with how he envisions the future (cf. Rom. 8:24). Moreover, hope in the Bible is necessarily tied to God’s sovereign plan. Bill might not know how he will provide for his own future needs, but he can rest assured that God is committed to taking care of these needs, and that commitment has been secured by the resurrection of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). So, when Bill thinks about his future, and he notices that his mind begins to race with “what ifs,” you can help him regain perspective: “Bill, how can we be sure God is ‘for us’? How has the Lord shown us that His mercy and love are real?” Bill should walk away from the conversation confident that we have a living hope based on a risen Savior!
Join the Conversation
What other passages might you use to counsel Bill? How would you use them?
Note: The full-length article first appeared on: http://www.careleader.org/4-truths-help-people-frightened-news (June 23, 2016).