“Faith is the opposite of fear.”
“Faith and fear cannot occupy the same space.”
I’ve been running across such phrases lately, but the more I hear them, the less inclined I am to think they tell the whole story.
The thing about opposites is that they are concrete and clearly defined. Up is the opposite of down. Hot is the opposite of cold. Crooked is the opposite of straight. Right is the opposite of wrong.
Fear is a feeling. If a feeling can have an opposite, it would have to be another feeling. Like happy and sad, perhaps.
Faith is a choice. It’s not some kind of feeling that flows from believing; it’s the decision to believe. For me, that’s a huge distinction.
I’m not suggesting that choices don’t have opposites. I can love or I can hate. I can forgive or I can hold a grudge. Those are clear and opposite alternatives.
But connecting faith (a choice) to fear (a feeling) in some sort of either-or scenario is not very helpful, especially for people who battle anxiety or whose personalities don’t lend themselves to bold emotional expressions. As a woman who sometimes struggles with body chemicals that negatively affect my emotions, I can vouch for this.
When I can physically feel anxiety coursing through my veins—simply because of a change in my hormone levels and not because I’m facing anything particularly troubling or difficult—I don’t stop believing God loves me. I don’t stop trusting that He will make a way for me or help me overcome my anxiousness.
If anything, I hang on to those beliefs even more in those moments. The feelings of fear associated with anxiety come and go, but my faith remains. And to suggest otherwise can lead to feelings of guilt and unworthiness that are usually unwarranted.
Here’s the thing. Faith is not reciting affirmations or thinking warm thoughts about God. It’s not crying tears of joy in a worship service or giving a bold testimony in front of a huge crowd (though those can be expressions of faith for some people).
At the moment of salvation, faith is a gift from God—wholly unearned and undeserved (Ephesians 2:8-9).
After that, it’s choosing to believe what God’s Word says about Him, even when we haven’t sensed His presence in a long, long time.
It’s choosing to trust God when it hurts, when it makes no sense, when we cannot see Him working.
It’s acting on what’s right—on what we know God wants us to do—even if we are half scared out of our minds to do it.
It’s taking that first step, then the next, then the next.
You can’t tell me that Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego weren’t absolutely terrified when confronted with the pack of hungry lions or the super-hot furnace. But they believed God was with them, and they acted on that. They didn’t let their fear keep them from doing what was right.
The Israelites, on the other hand, weren’t banned from entering the Promised Land because they were afraid of the giants there. They were banned because they refused to enter when God told them to go. Their fear didn’t reveal their lack of faith, their inaction did.
When I’m afraid or anxious, the promise of 2 Timothy 1:7 gives me strength and hope: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Not too long ago, I noticed something about this verse that I’d never considered before. In describing what God gives us instead of fear, there’s no mention of faith.
Power? Yes. Love? Check. A sound mind? Definitely very helpful. But nothing about faith.
Maybe that’s because faith is not the opposite of fear.
Nor is it the absence of fear.
It’s a choice that guides our actions.
P.S. Linking up this week with Aimee Imbeau at Grace & Truth, Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Lyli Dunbar at #ThoughtProvokingThursday, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart and Missional Women.