Living in the midst of a pandemic has forced us to reckon with our fears and anxieties in ways we otherwise may not have. In ordinary circumstances, we are able to create routines, life rhythms, and a sense of security that enable us to manage fear and anxiety. But when we are placed in a prolonged season in which there is a lack of surety about the future, our old coping mechanisms do not work anymore. In other words, it could be that God is using our current circumstances to teach us to go to him in times of fear and anxiety.
In the Psalms especially, we find places where God delivers us from fear. In these places, the name used for God is Adonai Yahweh, or Sovereign Lord. In each case, he is directly attacking a fear among his people. So, if as a Savior he conquers his enemies, which are ultimately our enemies, then as a sovereign Lord, he is the one who conquers all our fears. He replaces our spiritual depression with joy; he replaces our fear with courage by his strength.
Here are five fears that he conquers by his name:
Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.Psalm 16:2
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
As David looks out at his life, and he conducts a kind of survey, figuring out where the boundary lines are. He looks and he says, “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6). What does this mean? He means that in his boundary lines, God has given him the most pleasant gifts and they will never leave him for all of eternity. David acknowledged that eternal life was the most precious gift he could be given. No matter what happened to his body or the bodies of his loved ones, they would live forever. David was not afraid to die. Later in this psalm, David proclaims, “For you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (v.10). Instead, he says, “You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (v. 11). Ultimately, this psalm points us forward to the resurrection, which is the paradigmatic event in history proving that God is still at work even when things seem to be falling apart, and that one day “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). God can uphold you through fear of death.
Our God is a god who saves;
From the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death.Psalm 68:20
Because God is the sovereign Lord from whom all power is derived, there is no need to fear others. How differently would we live if we were not afraid of what people thought, of what people would said, or of what people could do to us? Psalm 56:11 says, “in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?” If we were not afraid of man, what difference would it make?
One of my heroes is Fred Shuttlesworth. Martin Luther King Jr. called him the bravest man in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a Baptist pastor in north Birmingham from 1951-1963 who personally took on Bull Connor, the infamously ruthless Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, AL. Shuttlesworth underwent terrible threats during his work on behalf of the Civil Rights. Movement. The Klu Klux Klan blew up his house. A group of hate mongers pulled a trench coat up over his head and beat him, with the white women surrounding shouting, “Beat him tell he’s dead.” Another time, opponents of his work surrounded his car. They started beating on the car and rocking the car, saying, “We’re gonna kill you.” So, Shuttlesworth got out of the car and walked right in the middle of them, saying, “If you’re gonna kill me, kill me. But you can’t intimidate me.”
That is the way we ought to live to boldly live in obedience to God and to not live in fear of those who would oppose us. God is able to uphold you through fear of man.
3. Lost Reputation
But you, Sovereign Lord,Psalm 109:21
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
Because the sovereign Lord is our strength, there should be no fear of lost reputation. For those who live in an honor culture, a lost reputation can be feared worse than death. Anyone who has lived very long at all realizes that cutting words that tarnish our reputation oftentimes do greater damage than any physical aggression. I have worked with many people who have struggled for years to forgive or live above hurtful words that have been spoken in the past. Paul described the destructive ability of our words when he wrote, “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:13,14). During his earthly ministry, the Savior endured scathing slander from the lips of his enemies. They attributed his miracles to the power of the Devil, called him a trouble-maker and rabble rouser, mocked him as a bastard, and put forth lying and contradictory witnesses to convict him of blasphemy.
Jesus was fully divine, but he was also fully human, so in the same way words would hurt any of us, so they hurt our Savior. But he endured them “out of the goodness of [his] love.” In this psalm, the writer appeals to God on behalf of the glory of God’s name. In other words, he is asking God to get a name for himself by saving him. God says that he will save his honor, but he does not guarantee that he will save ours. However, if we look to the fact that God gave us the life of his Son in order to save us, we can take heart in the fact that while people in this life may think ill of us—just as they did of Jesus—if we are in Christ, we will never be forsaken by God. God is able to uphold you through the fear of a lost reputation.
Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer,
you shield my head in the day of battle.
I know that the Lord secures justice for the poorPsalm 140:7, 12-13
and upholds the cause of the needy.
Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence.
David looks to God as his shield. He does not put his trust in people or systems. While we should work to repair broken systems and elect people who work against injustice, our ultimate hope must be in God or we will always be disappointed. The reason David puts his hope ultimately in God is because “knows” that God will work justice for victims of injustice. We know this too, by looking at Christ. Jesus shows us both God’s concern for justice and his concern for us, because, in Jesus, God justified unjust people (all of us). In other words, the hope David had is what Jesus would bring. In fact, when Jesus defined the “good news” he came to declare as the “year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19) or Jubilee (Leviticus 25), he was identifying his incarnated message with that which long preceded David. Jubilee occurred every fifty years. During Jubilee, the fields lay fallow, persons returned to their own homes, debts were relinquished, and slaves set free. The Bible calls that “justice” (e.g. Proverbs 31:4-9).
So to whom did Jesus say he was anointed to preach justification and justice? To the poor, the prisoners, and the blind (Luke 4:18). The first question the typical Cartesian Christian asks is, “Is he referring to physical conditions or spiritual.” The answer of Jesus’ life was “yes!” His ministry and miracles signified the inauguration of his reign on earth and he will not quit that pursuit until he has brought all physical and spiritual enemies under his feet. The word translated “poor” (οἱ πτωχοί) refers to ‘one who is so poor as to have to beg’, i.e. one who is completely destitute. Of course in Psalms and in the beatitudes “poor” can refer to spiritual humility too. There can be spiritual as well as literally blind and captive people too, but why would we conclude he only meant the spiritually poor, blind, and captive when much of his ministry was occupied with doing good to the literally poor, blind and captive (Matthew 11:5)?
Jesus brought the good news of dignifying compassion toward the “poor widow” (Luke 21:3); he brought the good news of literal sight to the man born blind (John 9:6, 7); and he brought the good news of literal release from captivity to the Gadarene demoniac (Luke 8:26-37). It is not as though, as Christians, we must choose between preaching the gospel and meeting one’s practical needs. In fact, it is often the case that we do not have the opportunity to share the gospel until we have proved by tangible works of love and service that we can be trusted, and we can always explain to those we serve that we do so in the name of Jesus. To pursue justice on earth in the name of Jesus for the poor, fatherless, widow, bling, lame, and needy is to enjoy the “friendship of God” and to “put on righteousness and justice like a robe and turban” (Job 29:1-20).
David acknowledges God’s ultimate victory over evildoers who carry out injustice. Because God’s justice will ultimately be carried out and all things will be put right, we do not have to lose heart when we face injustice in our lives here on earth. God can uphold you through the fear that injustice will never be rectified.
But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;Psalm 141:8
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Finally, God’s sovereignty gives us no need to fear the future. David urges us to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord who never forsakes his children in spiritual poverty, emotional need or physical distress. So, David effectively says, “I don’t know what else they could do to me. They could set any number of traps that I can’t anticipate, but it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, God will cause them to fall into their own traps, because he is the sovereign Lord. They have no ability unless he gives it to them.”
David knew and testified to the fact that whatever happens to God’s people in life, they can have peace in the knowledge that what awaits them is infinitely better than anything they might secure in this life. More than that, David had reason to believe that while we are not promised to be spared from walking “through the darkest valley,” we do have a God who causes our cup to overflow, an image of abundant joy in this life. David wrote,
Surely goodness and love shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.Psalm 23:6
God saves us from our enemies ultimately, but he also upholds us through our fears now. Because of who God is, Adonai Yahweh the Sovereign Lord, we no longer have to fear death, man, lost reputation, injustice, or the future. He is sovereign over them all.
 These details related in Greg Thompson, “An Experiment in Love: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Re-imagining of American Democracy” (PHD diss., University of Virginia, 2015), https://libraetd.lib.virginia.edu/public_view/5425k998h and Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (Simon and Schuster, 1989).
 F. Hauck and E. Bammel, TDNT VI, 885–915
SOUL ANATOMY: FINDING PEACE, HOPE, AND JOY IN THE PSALMS
Soul Anatomy by George Robertson is a biblical guide for working through emotional turmoil in a gospel-centered way. It shows how the Psalms serve as a God-authored script by which to express every category of the human experience.