Ron Helle / November 25, 2022

Much Afraid

I’ve heard it said that courage is the opposite of fear. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. Courage is acting in spite of the fear.

The landing craft was bobbing in the ocean swells as we climbed down the nets on the side of our ship, LPD-5, USS Ogden. It was the end of January 1966, and this was her first voyage. I felt like I was in a World War II documentary.

At the time, I was a cannoneer, assigned to the 3rd 8" Howitzer Battery, preparing to disembark in Chu Lai, Vietnam. In our operational briefings (which were pretty rudimentary for us peons), we were told there were 50,000 Viet Cong (VC) insurgents operating in the Chu Lai area. We were quite sure that they were all going to be waiting for us on the beach. I had volunteered to be a part of the landing party that was to secure the beachhead for the arrival of our howitzers and equipment.

The bobbing landing craft complicated our descent on the nets, encumbered by helmets, packs, and flak jackets (body armor), our M-14 rifles slung over our shoulders. You could feel the tension build as we headed toward the beach. Visions of Normandy and the Pacific Island campaigns flashed through my mind. Our Navy comrades, however, seemed quite relaxed, so I risked peering over the side of the boat. To my amazement, I observed a group of Seabees sunbathing on a long pier extending from the shore. Underwhelming, to say the least.

Reflecting back, I can vividly recall the apprehension this untested young Marine felt. It reminded me of the character Much Afraid in Hannah Hurnard’s classic work, Hinds’ Feet on High Places. Much Afraid is the principal character who lives in the Valley of Humiliation, where she serves the Great Shepherd. She longs to leave the valley for the high places, but her fear and weakness keep her there.

Fear is a very real emotion, and if we allow it, it will cripple our desire to serve King Jesus. I’ve heard it said that courage is the opposite of fear. I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. Courage is acting in spite of the fear. As Christians living in a hostile world, it is understood that there will be times when we find ourselves much afraid. How we respond to that fear is what will define us.

The most common Greek word translated as “fear” in the New Testament is phobos, from which we get our word “phobia.” It is defined as “to cause fear, terrify” (Young’s Analytical Concordance). The disciples cried out in fear when they saw Jesus walking on the water in the storm (Matthew 14:26). The guards at the tomb shook with fear at the presence of the angel that rolled the stone away (Matthew 28:4). The crowd became fearful when Jesus raised a widow’s only son from the dead (Luke 7:11-16). In these instances, there was good reason to fear, but what am I afraid of? In most cases, it’s about things that have not yet happened. I worry about my job security. I worry about my family members. I worry about the economy, or rising crime, or the increasing hostility of a morally degraded society.

While all of these things may be concerning to us, the Bible gives us the final word on conquering fear, and that final word is Jesus.

“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So, we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us.” —1 John 4:15-19 (ESV)

That’s how simple it is — simple enough for a Marine to understand. The closer I am to King Jesus, the less I have to fear. Abiding is a daily walk beside Him, not checking in once on Sunday or even a couple of times during the week. It requires searching Scripture, which reveals His promises to me. The Bible is like the owner’s manual that came with my car. It tells me how everything works as well as how to maintain it.

Much Afraid was able to leave the Valley of Humiliation (which is where the fearful always stay) by walking with the Great Shepherd. As she walked, her crippled feet were strengthened, and, like a deer, she found her footing in the high places of God. I want that kind of sure-footedness in my life. What say ye, Man of Valor?

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