“The Futility of Fear,” New Era, Nov. 1985, 44
Anciently, the Lord spoke to Isaac, saying: “Fear not, for I am with thee” (Gen. 26:24). The admonition to “fear not” was clear and direct and meaningful. The promise that “I am with thee” was equally plain and direct and powerful.
Down through the ages the same admonition, the same assurance, has been extended to every living soul who is willing to qualify. And yet, fear is prevalent throughout the earth. It stifles initiative, saps strength, and reduces efficiency. It weakens faith, brings doubts, and begets mistrust. Indeed, it tends to impede the very business of being. How negative, frustrating, and futile is fear.
Just like people, fear comes in all shapes and sizes. There are those who fear people, others fear things, many fear the future, and some fear the past. Where do you fit in?
Fear of God. Among all of the possible fears, this is the only one that is valid. However, it is not fear in the normal sense of lack of courage, but rather love, respect, and reverence. Indeed, fear of God in this sense can dispel all other fears. For example, the Israelites were assured and admonished, “the Lord is with us: fear them not” (Num. 14:9), and the Apostle Paul asked the rhetorical question, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31), meaning “who can prevail against us?” (JST, Rom. 8:31).
Fear, or love of God, also brings many other blessings as well as courage. “It shall be well with them that fear God” (Eccl. 8:12), for he is “gracious unto those who fear” [him] (D&C 76:5). Yes, fear, or love of God releases us, frees us, just as acceptance of truth does, for “the truth shall make [us] free” (John 8:32).
Fear of Man. There are those who fear physical domination by others. The Psalmist gave good counsel that we should “not fear what flesh can do unto [us]” (Ps. 56:4). Solomon also gave the wise saying that “fear of man bringeth a snare” (Prov. 29:25). It is hard for a child to realize this when someone sets upon him. Experience teaches that it is futile to be afraid, for fear attracts the attention of the bully and the derision of him who mocks.
The Lord, through Moses, declared with firmness to the Israelites: “When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the Lord thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Deut. 20:1).
To return good for evil not only overcomes fear but also overcomes enmity. I remember when we had an unfriendly neighbor some years ago. He would play the radio very loudly and generally try to be objectionable so much as to generate fear. I am glad I was prompted to retain a positive, cheerful demeanor which overcame fear and eventually broke down the barrier, for “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).
Fear of Criticism. Much more prevalent than physical fear is the fear of criticism, rejection, and verbal opposition. Again, the scriptures are replete with counsel and admonition. In latter-day revelation to Joseph Smith the Prophet, the Lord said, in relation to the loss of 116 pages of manuscript of the Book of Mormon, “You should not have feared man more than God” (D&C 3:7).
Saul was rejected from being king because, as he confessed to Samuel, “I feared the people, and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:24). Will you transgress the commandments of the Lord because you fear what others will say if you don’t follow them in the ways of the world? “Fear ye not the reproach of men,” the Lord counseled through Isaiah (see Isa. 51:7). In more recent times, he has chided those who “will not open their mouths, [to share the gospel] … because of the fear of man” (D&C 60:2).
When we have something to tell others which will benefit them, protect them, or enlighten them, we should not hold back. There are so many people who are confused and discouraged and who want a better way of life. How grateful they are when someone takes the time to share their happiness and purpose in life. Will you seek to hear even more? You are a great power for good, providing your righteous potential is harnessed by service.
While I was serving as mission president in Scotland from 1975 to 1978, the Church had much opposition and criticism. On one occasion three ministers made derogatory statements publicly in a particular city. I wrote an open letter to the local newspaper announcing that we would be holding a public meeting there to dispel some of the misunderstandings which were being voiced around. It was a wonderful meeting. We first showed the fine Church filmstrip Meet the Mormons, and then I spoke to the large group concerning our beliefs and way of life. When we opened the meeting for questions, a number of people who were not members of the Church stood and said kind things about the Church and the Latter-day Saints they knew. Positive results ensued, and the work moved forward.
What if we had feared the criticism? I remember receiving a telephone call from a missionary who was obviously a little fearful. He said, “President, what shall we do? We have a man from the local church who follows us wherever we go and tries to stop us knocking on the doors.” The young missionary was surprised at my response: “Good,” I said. “You will have much success there, for the adversary is getting worried.”
After my wife and I were baptized in January 1951, many of our neighbors shunned us, sometimes crossing over the street so they would not meet us face to face. This did not affect our attitude, however, and we would greet them normally. It was not long before they would come to us and say, “We have a child who is ill, would you pray for her?” Or, “I have a problem. Would you please give me some counsel and advice?”
There is never any need to fear opposition, criticism, or persecution, for we know what will be the outcome. The Lord’s work goes forward even more strongly, for “the works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.
“Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (D&C 3:1, 3).
Fear of Events. There are some who fear events, such as examinations and tests, interviews, and journeys. These are all challenges which we need to shoulder. Fear usually brings failure. The Saviour warned of “men’s hearts failing them for fear” (Luke 21:26).
There is an excellent example of this when Elisha’s servant discovered that the Syrian army had surrounded the city of Dothan, wherein they dwelt. Fearfully, he said to the prophet, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” Elisha answered him firmly: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kgs. 6:15–16). Well could he say this, for “Behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kgs. 6:17).
One lesson we have to learn is that fear is the beginning of defeat. On the other hand, courage is the beginning of success. We gain courage by the realization that we have a lot going for us. We derive strength from the knowledge that the Lord is with us.
One great event that some people fear is referred to as, “The end of the world.” We know that at the second coming of Jesus Christ it will be the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5; D&C 110:14), dread being a synonym for fear. We can make it a great day for us, though, rather than a dreadful day. How? By qualifying, by complying, by following the Lord. It is futile to be afraid when we could be “looking forth for the great day of the Lord” (D&C 45:39).
As a young boy, not quite 13 years of age, in September 1939, it was natural to have some momentary fear when I heard that war had been declared. Some of the children even speculated about the end of the world coming in those dark days that followed when the invasion of England seemed imminent and bombs were falling all around. We were not really afraid, however, for we had faith in God. We prayed and worked for deliverance, and miraculously it came.
Fear of Death. Another event which strikes fear and apprehension into the hearts of many is death. The prophet Mormon speaks of “that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked” (Morm. 6:7). This particular fear arises from misunderstanding the purpose of life, and lack of knowledge of the plan of our Eternal Father. It is vital to come to an understanding that death is not the end but a new beginning, a necessary stage in our eternal progression. Fear of death accomplishes nothing if we are righteous, for “death is swallowed up in victory … victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54, 57).
David, the shepherd/psalmist, gave us these magnificent words of comfort: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). Speaking of death in this way gives the Lord’s perspective, whereas talking fearfully of death creates fear and uneasiness.
Fear of the Unknown. This may be experienced in a number of ways: fear of the dark, fear of change, fear of the future. Such fear can be overcome by faith, as the Lord showed as he rebuked the winds and the sea. “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” he challenged his disciples (Matt. 8:26).
The Lord’s disciples succumbed to this type of fear on several occasions. When they saw Jesus walking on the water, he comforted them saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27). Again, when he appeared to them after his resurrection, they were “terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.” He developed faith within them as he asked them to “handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:37, 39).
Reassurance from others is an important step towards faith. For example, there is the comfort given by parents to children afraid of the dark, or a wife to a husband about to change his place of work. I remember during my Royal Air Force service in India and Burma during World War II, one of our colleagues was always imagining a twisted stick to be a snake. We had to reassure him on numerous occasions to allay his fears. As Theseus remarked in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Or in the night, imagining some fear, how easy is a bush supposed a bear” (act 5, sc. 1, lines 21–22).
Again, concerning the future, is it unknown? The Lord has told us much about the future through his prophets. The pattern of the scriptures is, first a commandment then a promise. Providing we live our lives in harmony with the commandments of God, there is no place for fear regarding the consequences. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). I have a strong testimony of this, for while we have not sought for worldly possessions, we have always had sufficient for our needs since we put our hands to the gospel plow.
Fear of Responsibility. I remember just after I joined the Church, a great feeling of confidence came over me. I felt that since I had chosen the Lord’s side, he was on my side. Several remarkable things happened, of which I will recount but two.
Although I had never had the courage to stand on my feet and speak in debate, either at high school or college, I found myself asking my branch president if I might give a talk in sacrament meeting. I still have the notes of that very first talk. It was on faith and works.
A few months after my baptism, a golden opportunity presented itself at my place of work, where I was a management trainee. Again, I had that strong feeling of self-assurance, and I received my first promotion, which set my feet on the management ladder. I found that through my Church membership and the faith it engendered, I overcame the fear of taking responsibility.
What of marriage responsibility? Are there some who delay marriage for fear of the responsibility? When my wife and I were married, we had the magnificent sum of 20 English pounds between us. Although young, we felt ready for the challenges and responsibilities that we knew lay ahead. What a glorious experience it has been now for almost 40 years to shoulder responsibility and struggle together in building a happy home and a wonderful family of ten precious children.
From time to time I meet members of the Church who do not feel able to take responsibility as an officer or a teacher in the Church. I tell them of my experience in England. Literally within days of baptism, I was called to head the youth program in the Nottingham Branch. This was completely new to me, and I felt inadeqate, but I knew the Lord had need of me. There were less than 7,000 members in the whole of the British Isles where there are now 40 stakes. We all had to be “anxiously engaged” in the work of saving souls, building the kingdom, and establishing Zion. So it is with all of us. It is futile to fear responsibility when we have been called to serve “by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (A of F 1:5).
Fear of Loneliness. Linked with this fear is the fear of being in a small minority. This type of fear often results in compromise of principles and giving in to the demands of others for fear of being lonely or the odd one out. In latter-day revelation, the Lord has given comfort and assurance to those in this situation.
“Fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail” (D&C 6:34).
Fear of loneliness includes fear of not having anyone to talk to or being without help in time of need. These fears can be conquered by reaching out and giving service to others, becoming outward looking instead of inward looking. In order to have a friend, we must be a friend.
I think of dear Sister Amy Gent, whom I was privileged to visit for several years as branch president, home teacher, and friend. The first time I visited her, she was 87 years of age. Widowed twice, she was the only member of the Church in her extended family. Was she lonely? Never!
She read the scriptures every day. Once she asked me to bring her some missionary tracts, which I thought were to vary her reading. I gave them to her saying, “You will enjoy reading these, Sister Gent.”
“Oh, they are not for me,” she replied. “I visit an old lady, and I want to share the gospel with her!”
Reaching out, helping, serving, this is the way we overcome the fear of loneliness.
A few weeks ago, a brother complained to me, “When I was away on business recently in another part of the country, I went to church and no one spoke to me. I felt very lonely, especially since I was so far from home.” I paused and then asked, “How many people did you speak to?” At first he was a little annoyed, feeling I had not been sympathetic, but then he smiled and said: “You’re right. I did hold back instead of reaching out.”
Fear of the Past. This fear haunts those who have transgressed and not yet gained forgiveness and remission. It holds them back, but this should be but a temporary phase. As President Kimball has counseled: “To cure spiritual diseases which throttle us and plague our lives, the Lord has given us a sure cure—repentance” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. x).
Furthermore, the Lord has given us a wonderful formula to enable us to remove fear and guilt: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:42–43).
Once we confess, we need have no more fear about being found out. What a tremendous burden is lifted, which otherwise would weigh us down interminably. Confession is the first major step in the process of repentance. Sincere repentance is many faceted; it is more than confession. There must needs be a forsaking and turning away from transgression in all its sordid forms.
Then we can look forward to, and indeed claim fulfillment of, the promise of the Lord that he will not only forgive but remember our sins no more. What a contrast to the lot of those of whom Isaiah speaks: “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?” (Isa. 29:15).
On a number of occasions I have had the happy assignment to meet with those who have prepared to come back into the fulness of gospel blessings. What a great day it is for them. Fear of the past has fled, and they are starting out anew. It is good to be able to say to them, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
As does the housewife, we need to spring clean our lives, sweep out each nook and cranny and under the carpet. In the world of industry and commerce, which used to be my environment, regular inventory is taken. At this time a decision might be taken to eliminate certain items from the inventory and to mark down in value other items.
When recommendations are being considered for appointment to public office, investigation of the personal life and affairs of the nominee are becoming more frequent. Whether we have aspirations for success in politics, business, academics, or other spheres of activity, we should endeavor to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). In order not to fear the past, try not to do anything in the present that you will regret in the future.
Fear of Failure. There are those who will not even attempt to do something because they lack the self-assurance that they can accomplish it. I was raised with the old adage ringing in my ears: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.“ There is no disgrace in failure, and in any case, we have never failed until we give up. The four-minute mile eluded athletes for many years, but after trying again and again, Dr. Roger Bannister finally achieved it. Since then, athletes from many lands have broken this seeming barrier.
President N. Eldon Tanner remarked on one occasion, “One of the evils of the world today is not failure but low aim.” Just as we should not fear to fail, neither should we fear to aim high. There was no question of failure in the mind of Joseph the Prophet when, in the dark days of 1842, he penned the words: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!” (D&C 128:22).
I say to you courage, young people! These are great times, and there are great things to be accomplished. Develop your talents; do not hide them under a bushel. Prepare prayerfully, increase in faith, and you will never have need to fear.