“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” Psalm 23:4
“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come Lord Jesus.” Frederick Buechner
Do not fear.
Those three words are at the heart of the good news of Jesus. Before he enters into our wrecked lives we have good reason to fear. Before his grace restores us we are a ruin, a foggy graveyard in the dead of night. We’re too lost even to ask for direction, too feeble to beg for help. We may be wealthy, successful, beautiful, even happy–but we know that our deepest heart is a wasteland, a vast, black emptiness of stone and sorrow. To know that emptiness is to be afraid, and that fear is good. That’s the kind of fear that leads to humility, the kind of helplessness that leads to repentance.
But once we’ve heard the Lion roar, once we’ve felt the earth tremble beneath his feet as he strides through the valley of death to gather us up, when we have looked into his loving eyes and seen the forges of heaven there, when we have finally stopped running, when we have given up and have at last let him heal us where we’re truly broken, everything changes. The wasteland is green. The graveyard is a garden. Our senses sometimes tell us otherwise, and it’s hard to believe, but faith gives us eyes to see his invisible face, ears to hear his silent voice.
Those walking in darkness have seen a great light, said the prophet Isaiah of Jesus’ triumphant arrival. Here is a great mystery: that very light lives in us. In the streets of our Bethlehem, a child has been born. On the hill of our sin a man has been crucified. In the garden tomb of our hearts that man has risen and proved that he was also God all along. What have we to fear? Nothing. Yea, though I walk through the grief of my loss, through the confusion of my suffering, through the powerful sadness of getting out of bed when all seems lost, I will not fear, for he is with me. As I walk through the city, as I struggle to follow, as I pay my bills, as I fill my tank and feed my children, I will not fear. Though enemies plot, though the bombs are tested, though the nations rage, though all Hell break loose–I will not fear. He is with me.
Of all the gifts he came to bring–forgiveness, restoration, love, purpose, beauty, mercy–the one that defines our daily life in him is peace. Peace. We have nothing to fear. The maker of all things dwells within us. That idea is too wonderful, too mysterious for one sentence to contain, so it bears repeating: God himself–somehow–inhabits us. Why should we cower behind locked doors? Why should we fear men? Why should we let anxiety steal our joy?
When the angel appeared to Mary it said “Don’t be afraid.” When they appeared to the shepherds they said, “Don’t be afraid.” At the transfiguration Jesus said, “Arise, and do not fear.” When the angel appeared at the tomb it said, “Do not fear.” Again and again God tells us the same thing: fear not. Rest. Hide if you like. He’ll find you. Cower like the apostles after Jesus’ death. They locked the doors and drew the shades and trembled in the dark–and who can blame them? But deadbolts are no trouble for Jesus, who walks through walls. What were the first words out of his mouth when he dropped in on his old friends in that locked room? “Peace be with you.” And then, after he showed them his scars? “Peace to you.” What did he say the next Sunday when he surprised Thomas? “Peace to you.”
It’s as if, fresh from the tomb, toes still wet from his walk through the dewy grass, there was one thing he couldn’t wait to tell them: “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. Of anything, ever again. Rest easy, children. It is finished.”