Viewpoint: Fear or Faith?
“It is a good thing to sit down and commune with yourself, to come to an understanding of yourself, and to decide in that silent moment what your duty is to your family, to your church, to your country, and to your fellowmen.” —President Thomas S. Monson
The Bible Dictionary states: “The first effect of Adam’s sin was that he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). Sin destroys that feeling of confidence God’s child should feel in a loving Father, and produces instead a feeling of shame and guilt. Ever since the Fall God has been teaching men not to fear, but with penitence to ask forgiveness in full confidence of receiving it” (Bible Dictionary, “Fear”).
One of the most beautiful things about the gospel is peace. When we are humble, exercise repentance, and obey the commandments, we should not fear.
But what about the scriptures that instruct us to fear God? There are examples from all the standard works. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). “But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” (Luke 23:40). “And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ” (Alma 34:37). “For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (D&C 76:5). “The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people” (Moses 7:17).
Again, the Bible Dictionary clarifies the difference between the two fears found in the Bible: “Care should be taken to distinguish between two different uses of this word. The ‘fear of the Lord’ is frequently spoken of as part of man’s duty … ; it is also described as godly fear. … In such passages fear is equivalent to reverence, awe, worship, and is therefore an essential part of the attitude of mind in which we ought to stand toward the All-holy God. On the other hand fear is spoken of as something unworthy of a child of God, something that ‘perfect love casteth out.’ ”
“Fear is the opposite of faith,” said President Boyd K. Packer in the April 2004 general conference. “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior” (“Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 79).
President Thomas S. Monson has taught: “How do we find faith? … It is a good thing to sit down and commune with yourself, to come to an understanding of yourself and to decide in that silent moment what your duty is to your family, to your church, to your country, and to your fellowmen” (“Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother,” BYU 14-stake fireside, Dec. 3, 1978).
Addressing the need to have faith to raise families in the latter days, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve said, “I know that many of you are concerned about raising your children during these difficult times and increasing their faith. When my wife and I were starting our family in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had that same concern. At a critical point our stake members were advised by Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Twelve, that we could raise our families in righteousness if we would:
“1. Follow the prophet.
“2. Create the true spirit of the gospel in our hearts and homes.
“3. Be a light to those among whom we live.
“4. Focus on the ordinances and principles taught in the temple” (“Live by Faith and Not by Fear,” Ensign, Nov. 2007, 72).
The effects of fear can literally halt us in our tracks. Fear as a tool of the adversary can prevent our progression. It can rob us of education, experience, and destiny. Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes a comfortable and relaxing bed, blanket, and pillow. Paul, while in Rome, wrote to Timothy with these words: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Describing a feeling of fear that enveloped his neighborhood when he was a child because of diseases like chicken pox, measles, and mumps, President Packer said, “We could not blockade ourselves inside our homes or stay hidden away to avoid those terrible contagions. We had to go to school, to employment, to church—to life!” (“Do Not Fear,” 78).
The failure to perform our missions in life because of fear is real. We must be ever vigilant to move forward as the Spirit directs into the unknown. The only way to conquer a fear is to go through it. Going around, under, or over it does not work. President Monson said, “Whatever our calling, regardless of our fears or anxieties, let us pray and then go and do, remembering the words of the Master, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who promised, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:20).”
“Who among us can say that he or she has not felt fear?” wrote President Gordon B. Hinckley in the October 1984 Ensign. “I know of no one who has been entirely spared. Some, of course, experience fear to a greater degree than do others. Some are able to rise above it quickly, but others are trapped and pulled down by it and even driven to defeat. We suffer from the fear of ridicule, the fear of failure, the fear of loneliness, the fear of ignorance. Some fear the present, some the future. Some carry the burden of sin and would give almost anything to unshackle themselves from those burdens but fear to change their lives. Let us recognize that fear comes not of God, but rather that this gnawing, destructive element comes from the adversary of truth and righteousness. Fear is the antithesis of faith. It is corrosive in its effects, even deadly” (“God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct. 1984, 2).
Joseph Smith experienced some of the greatest trials that any person has ever experienced in this dispensation. We would assume fear should have been his constant companion, but he is quoted as saying to his cousin George A. Smith: “Never be discouraged. If I were sunk in the lowest pits of Nova Scotia, with the Rocky Mountains piled on me, I would hang on, exercise faith, and keep up good courage, and I would come out on top” (in John Henry Evans, Joseph Smith, an American Prophet , 9).
President Monson said, “May we choose to build up within ourselves a great power of faith which will be our most effective bulwark against the designs of the adversary—a real faith, the kind of faith which will sustain us” (“The Three R’s of Choice,” BYU Devotional, Nov. 5, 1963).