Monday, March 16, 2009

Like it says in the Bible...

The other day, a friend of mine related the saying (with full irony) that her father always loved to tell her: "Like it says in the Bible, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'"

I'll just set aside the political overtones that the conversation could take at this point to observe that in some ways the Bible really does say that, and so do some of our best hymns.

For instance, my concordance lists six psalms about living without fear. The birth of Jesus is heralded by angels who proclaim "Fear not!" His ministry is full of the command to followers and believers not to fear, and even from the cross He calms the fear of the criminals crucified with Him, proclaiming they will see Him in paradise.

I've found it impossible to think of a hymn with the word "fear" in its title (but I welcome comments from anyone who can think of one). On the other hand, so many verses repeat the message of hope and trust in God's guidance during times of fear:

*ELW 600 (Out of the Depths I Cry to You): "We rest our fears in your good Word and trust your Holy Spirit"

*ELW 778 (The Lord's My Shepherd): "Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, yet will I fear no ill"

*ELW 787 (On Eagle's Wings): "You need not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day"

The ELW has an entire section of hymns under the heading "Trust, Guidance." During times of turmoil, change, and fear - be they economic, personal, or spiritual - these are just some of the hymns that repeat God's message for us: "Fear not!"

Incidentally, none of my examples above come from the title or first verse of a hymn. It's so important that we read and proclaim the Word by singing every verse as well as through reading scripture. Repeatedly exploring the source material (sola scriptura) is how we deepen our faith and understanding. From a similar point of view, had a long-running series by David Plotz about his experience reading the Bible (read more here and here).

If you had to sum up the Bible in two words, "Fear not!" wouldn't be the worst attempt. It's a message many of us need to hear right now.


  1. Rev. Robert FerroMarch 19, 2009 at 8:42 AM

    I've never heard anyone say that "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" came from the Bible. But I have heard from people that "A house divided against itself" was first said by Abraham Lincoln not knowing that Lincoln was quoting Jesus. It is amazing how many sayings that people use have come from the Bible, but there are also many others that sound Biblical, but aren't (God helps those who help themselves).

    I've come up with a hymn with the word "fear" in the title - ELW 764 (LBW 476) "Have No Fear, Little Flock". Do I win a prize?

  2. Why Should We Start, and Fear to Die?
    (When I Survey the Wondrous Cross)
    Now Let Our Lips with Ho­ly Fear
    My God, How Ma­ny Are My Fears
    Come, Children, Learn to Fear the Lord
    Happy Is He That Fears the Lord
    My God, How Ma­ny Are My Fears

    Isaac Watts, 1674-1748
    I win.

    Joanne Sadlon

  3. Now that's impressive work, you two! Thanks for finding more examples; I knew there would be many I wasn't thinking of.

  4. My immediate reaction to this blog was Tevye's penchant for saying "as it says in the good book" from "Fiddler on the Roof." Many people claim authority for their views by basing them on obscure, or even imaginary, scriptural reference. One of the things history teaches is to fear those who claim to be doing "God's work," as if any of us could be smart enough to know what that truly is! Maybe we should say "The only thing we have to fear is those who are not afraid."