What does it mean that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble,” so much so that “we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1–2)? More poignantly, what do you believe it means? That’s where the rubber of your faith meets the road of your real life.
Crises of faith occur where the rubber of our faith — what we believe should be our experience if we trust God — meets the road of an experience that contradicts (or appears to contradict) our belief. Often this happens when some evil befalls us, leaving us disoriented and confused, feeling angry and disillusioned with God, who doesn’t appear to be following through on his promises.
After all, didn’t Jesus teach us to pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew [6:13])? And when we do, didn’t David teach us to expect this result: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4)? Isn’t God supposed to be “a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8) from the things we most fear?
The answers to those questions are yes — and perhaps no. God does promise to ultimately deliver us from all evil and from the most fearful things, the things that pose the most real danger to our souls. But he does not promise that no evil will ever befall us in this age, nor does he promise to deliver us from what personally strikes the most fear into us.
All of us have disordered fears, and they pose more trouble and heartache for us than we can often comprehend. We tend to have too little fear for the things most dangerous to our souls, and too much fear over things far less dangerous.
We are foolishly tempted to fearlessly and eagerly embrace some of the greatest dangers to our souls (1 Timothy [6:10]). And lesser dangers so terrify us, we avoid them like the plague, even though they promise to yield us unimaginable joys (Philippians [1:21]; Psalm [16:11]).
What I Dread Befalls Me
This is not to make light of the horror that evil can afflict on us, things we rightly fear and rightly pray to be spared from. The Bible records essentially all of them, and some of the Bible’s greatest saints experienced the greatest possible afflictions.
Think of the horror Job experienced, and remember his cry in the full flare of unspeakable pain: “The thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job [3:25]). Though Job was blameless (Job 1:8), God did not spare him (or his wife or children or servants or animals) horrific satanic attack.
Job may be the poster child of biblical saintly responses to ambiguous providences, but the list is long of those who, like the apostle Paul,
suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews [11:36]–38)
Even this passage lists only a few of the fearful evils that have fallen on great saints with extraordinary kingdom-expansion assignments. It does not include the host of other forms of evil that befall believers: horrible sexual abuse, dignity-disintegrating mental illness or dementia, mysterious and seriously debilitating chronic pain, deep depression, the exquisite parental pain of disabled children, the betrayal of marital infidelity and the devastation of a broken family, beloved and prayed-for children walking away from the faith, succumbing too young to the ravages of a disease, leaving spouses desolate and children reeling in grief. This list could be a lot longer.
The question is: If God does not spare us from these sorts of fearful evils, then what sort of a refuge is he? In what way does he deliver us from evil? And how is it that we can actually mean it when we say, “We will not fear”?
Why Are You Afraid?
This is the crux of the issue for us. This is the problem we must come to terms with if we are to endure evil’s onslaught of affliction with our faith intact. For we will not put our faith in a God we do not trust. And we will not trust a God who won’t keep his promises to protect us from the most fearful dangers.
The fundamental question for each of us is not, “God, will you protect me from my worst fears?” but rather Jesus’s question to us, “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew [8:26]).
This is the question Jesus asked his disciples in the boat when they were panicking in the storm. It was no mystery why they were afraid. A number of them were experienced boatmen who knew full well this storm could send them to their graves. They were deathly afraid of death. Jesus asked the question to get the disciples to examine where their faith was placed. To drive this home, Luke’s account has Jesus asking them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke [8:25]).