Genesis tells us that God made men and women in his image and likeness.
Just as important, God created us not to be slaves but for friendship. So God created us out of love, and he made us with a purpose and with a point, a goal in mind, a destiny. We come to understand our destiny through what Jesus has revealed to us: to partake in God’s own divine life forever. The goal of life, if you will, is expressed in 2 Peter 1:4: God made us to partake of the divine nature.
We were made to be divinized. You were made to be divinized. Not to dissolve into the blob that is God, but to partake of God’s own life. That’s the end for which we were made. That is the Christian worldview in which God has revealed himself to us—and we wouldn’t know this unless God had revealed it. There is one God, not many, and he is good. In fact, he is very good. And everything he made, he has made out of love. We human beings are the pinnacle of his creation because we are made in his image and likeness. Furthermore, he didn’t make us to be slaves; he made us for friendship: friendship with him and friendship with one another. And now everything we do fits into a purposeful life, and that changes everything.
“Fear Not, I Have Redeemed You”
So God says to us, “Fear not.” Why? “Because I have redeemed you,” meaning, “I have paid a price for you.” That’s what it means to be redeemed. When we think of the word “redeem,” we often think of coupons. But of course, Scripture uses this word over and over again. What the Lord is saying to us in the Old Testament, which is fulfilled in the person of Jesus, is that you and I have been bought—paid for—by him. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name” (Isaiah 43:1).
So if you are dealing with fear and anxiety, let this soak in, because this is what God is saying to us: “You are mine.” Don’t misunderstand—we are not his possession that he can do whatever he wants with; instead, he is speaking as a bride to her bridegroom or a bridegroom to his bride. God says to each one of us, “I love you more than you could possibly imagine. And I’ve created everything. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. The world I made, I made for you. I made you with a purpose in mind. Don’t panic. Understand that when I said I redeemed you, I said it not just with words but with actions—the pouring out of my blood. It was for you because you were worth the trouble.” If you know that truth, then all of a sudden the fear begins to dissipate.
Listen to what the Lord says earlier in Isaiah. Remember, he is not just speaking twenty-five hundred years ago but right now to you: “Say to the fearful of heart: Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God, . . . he comes to save you” (Isaiah 35:4, NABRE). That’s how much you mean to him; that’s how much we mean to him. God himself is coming. He’s not just going to send an angel. He’s not just going to send a prophet. He comes to save us.
If you are feeling anxious and fearful as you read this, that knot in the back of your neck should be beginning to relax and your shoulders, beginning to drop. This is what Scripture is supposed to do; it is supposed to heal us. As we read God’s word, this is what we can be thinking: “I’m not alone. I don’t have to look out for number one. I have a Father. He loves me. He is good and powerful, and he’s always thinking about me; I’m always on his mind. He comes to save me.”
Again in Isaiah, the Lord says, “Fear not, for I am with you” (41:10). That’s meant for us, right now. No matter what’s currently going on in your life—financial concerns, health concerns, concerns about your kids, wondering how in the world you are going to get through whatever transition is in front of you—this is what the Lord says: “Fear not, I am with you. I am with you.” This God is with you, the Master of the universe, the One who never gets nervous, the One who has no rivals.
And continuing on with that verse from Isaiah (41:10), God says, “Be not dismayed, for I am your God” (emphasis added). And because he is our God and we belong to him (“You are mine”), then together we can handle whatever is going on in our lives right now.
Why Should I Be Afraid?
And so, as we come to hear the Lord speak to us and to know these truths, we can say to him certain things, also from Scripture. Although Psalm 23 is so well known to us, there’s a stark admission in it: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (verse 4). Maybe you’re immersed in grief right now. Maybe you’ve lost a spouse, a child, a parent, or a sibling in the last few months. You’re in the valley of death, and it’s not romantic. But though you’re there, what does the psalmist say? “I fear no evil.” Not because I’m not in the valley of the shadow of death, but because you, Lord, are with me. And I know that. And I know who you are. And I know what you’ve done for me. And I know that you care.
Psalm 27 says something similar: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (verse 1). If God is never afraid, never nervous, never scared of anything, and he’s on my side, then why should I be afraid? He is with me always, all the time. I just need to learn to turn to him, and I don’t always do that.
In the New Testament, the Lord’s words take on a different kind of force because of the person of Jesus and the reality of the Incarnation. Remember the passage in Luke in which the angels appear to the shepherds after the birth of Jesus?
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. (2:8-9)
This is the response to an angel. Angels aren’t little cute cherubs! When angels show up in Scripture, they terrify people. The shepherds were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you [us] good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you [to us] is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, emphasis added)
That’s why he has come—he has come to save. In the Old Testament, God said he would come to save us. But it was unthinkable for the Jewish people to try to comprehend that God would actually come to do it in the flesh. But that’s what he’s done. He didn’t send an angel. He didn’t commission another Moses. He came, and he came to save us.
What are you anxious about? A job? Getting into the college? Or “Is this medical test going to turn out well?” Jesus says the Gentiles seek these things, but they don’t know they have a God, let alone a Father who is good and loving, who made us not to be slaves but to be friends.
True Peace Is from Jesus
Here is a passage we hear at Mass when we come together: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The world gives peace by eliminating conflict. That’s the only way the world knows peace. That will never happen in our lives, if for no other reason than that the deepest conflict is the one in our hearts. And that conflict will be raging until the Lord finally finishes purifying us and we are ushered into heaven.
But Jesus gives peace in the midst of conflict. When you come back from the doctor with a diagnosis that you didn’t want to hear, all of a sudden, there’s panic. Yet in reality, nothing has changed. You were in God’s hands before, when everything was going well (or so you thought), and you’re in God’s hands now. The God who was with you when you thought you were doing just fine and when you really didn’t need him all that much is the same God who is still with you. You belong to God. No matter what it is that is taking place in your life, you can be at peace—because your life is in his hands. And because he is never afraid, and he can handle any situation that you could ever face.
—This is a selection from Heaven Starts Now: Becoming a Saint Day by Day, by Fr. John Riccardo, from The Word Among Us Press (2016). Available at www.wau.org/books