Fighting the Fear Monster – Part 1

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Could it be a conspiracy? Are manufacturers of energy drinks funneling a cut from their profits to the publishers of academic textbooks and certain unscrupulous professors. Driven to drink these caffeine-laced concoctions by the looming disaster of a final exam over material in a coma-inducing textbook, the unwary college student falls victim to a trap. It is a vicious trap – lack of study will keep you awake, while studying will put you to sleep. In a bizarre twist on their childhood nightmares, they turn to Monsters to rescue them.

Thankfully those days of pulling all-nighters are a distant memory for me. However, I find that there is still a monster that threatens to keep me awake at night. It is the monster, Fear.

In Psalm 3:5, David reports:

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

If we think this is merely a poetic way of saying, “I had a good night’s sleep,” we missed an important historical element. The occasion of this psalm was David’s flight from Jerusalem to escape the attempted coup orchestrated by his son, Absolom. The details of the event are recorded in 2 Samuel 15-18. Psalm 3 expresses the thoughts of a man who is running for his life. When David lay down to sleep, he knew there was a good chance that he would not wake up again. The beginning verses of the psalm give us a pretty clear picture of the fearful threat:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah (vv. 1-2)

So when David wrote, “I lay down and slept,” he was telling us that something had enabled him to sleep in the midst of fearful circumstances. The vast army that threatened David’s life measured in the thousands. However, there were certain key enemies who embodied the kinds of fearful circumstances that David faced and that we all face: feelings of guilt, a sense of vulnerability, and concern for reputation.

Absolom: Fear from Guilt

Many parents needlessly beat themselves up over the self-destructive choices that their children make. We cannot ensure that our children will grow up delighting in God and following Christ. Even the best parents face the heartache of children who reject God.

However, some parents can see their own sinful failures play out in the lives of their children. Guilt over what they did and did not do haunts them. There is no way to turn back the clock. Fear attacks them with thoughts of doubt and despair.

In 2 Samuel 12, we read that God sent the prophet, Nathan, to confront David about his sins of murder and adultery. David had slept with Bathsheba, the wife of his faithful warrior, Uriah. When Bathsheba became pregnant, David had Uriah killed to cover up his sin. Absolom’s revolt was in fulfillment of God’s judgment against David’s actions (2 Samuel 12:10-12).

Yet we are told that David acknowledged his guilt, and God forgave him. David had to live with the consequences of his actions, but not with the guilt. The prophet, Nathan, told him, “The LORD also has put away your sin” (2 Samuel 12:13). So we can understand why David could call God “the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3). In the midst of this severe trial, God was not angry with David. David’s broken relationship with his son was no indication of a broken relationship with his Lord. God delighted in David.

Like King David, we live with the consequences of our actions. Sometimes those consequences stay with us for the rest of our lives. However, as believers, we do not fear condemnation. We need not experience one second of guilt. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bear the guilt of our sins upon the cross:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

When the Christian lays his head on the pillow at night and reflects on his day (or his lifetime), he can confess his failures and trust that God is still smiling on him. He can ask for grace for a new day and, whatever may happen, be confident that he sleeps in the arms of his loving Father.

This is continued in Part 2.