Idolatry of Fear

By Paul Koch


The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods before Me.

What does this mean?

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

The last few posts, here on The Jagged Word, have caused me to take up again my old Catechism and read Luther’s simple yet eloquent instruction. These words are so familiar; I’ve taught them to the children of our congregation again and again, we’ve recited them around our dinner table, and I will even refer to them in sermons and during Bible study. Yet they are words that still teach me. Though the verb “fear” heads the list that Luther gives in his meaning, it is often “love” and ‘trust” that take up our discussion of the first commandment. I suppose it makes sense; it is easy to find examples of loves and objects of trust that men elevate before the true God. However, I believe the discussion on the misplacement of fear is long overdue.

Scott’s recent offer to “Help Me Help You” along with Graham’s pondering of “Florida Elections…U.S. Elections…What’s the Difference?” has caused me to consider the great idolatry of fear that seems to thrive unabated in the hearts of men. In fact, it seems that this form of idolatry is especially suited to the so-called leaders and experts in our society. From the clergy and the academic theologians to the bureaucrats and politicians it is the idolatry of fear that seems to thrive unchecked.

I Can't Speak

Most people who have ever been inspired by a professor were most impressed when they went off script, when they spoke things that the “establishment” wouldn’t necessarily approve of. I was fueled and motivated by Dr. Rosenbladt during my undergraduate studies, not simply because he was a great lecturer and challenged me, but because he didn’t seem to operate with the same fear as everyone else. He was like a giant middle finger to the establishment and he was willing to do what was necessary to make sure the Gospel was not just another academic exercise, but a reality in our lives.

But fear is a powerful god; fear causes us to live disjointed lives. Fear splits us down the middle dividing us into creatures that present ourselves with a public face and a private one. If a pastor fears the judgment of districts and boards and constituencies within the church more than God, then his preaching will suffer. He will privately desire to rely on the Word of God but will seek to find the answer in the latest program or technique rather the power of the Word he has already been given to speak. If the academic fears the bureaucracy more than God, then his instruction will be stifled and dishonest. He will create a public face that fits the mold, that gets along, that makes sure the paychecks keep coming. So, their very vocations becomes something of a perversion of what it ought to be.


We see this play out it a clear way in our politics in this country. We have no real idea what any of the politicians really think or believe. Oh, we like to think we know them because their sound bites echo with some of our own feelings. But we have no real sense of who these men and women are. They are a product for consumption created by the fear that they won’t be elected if they actually spoke their minds. Sure, they may bow to the altars of power and fortune but in the end they are held captive by the idolatry of fear.

So Christ declares, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt. 10:27-28) Fear only the Creator. Fear the Judge and Punisher of body and soul. Fear the one who can cast you into hell itself! Fear the one who sent His only begotten son in your stead. Fear the one who embraces your sins, the one who dies in your place, the one who promises you life and salvation. Fear the one who declares that you are free, you are loved, you are forgiven.

Let us be daring, let us be bold, let us fear our gracious giver God above all things!