If God keeps telling us, "Do not be afraid," then what are we supposed to do? There are things in this life that are scary - that are intimidating, unsettling, uncertain. Fear is a natural response to such things, and we should not be pretending that it isn't. And if all God can say is, "Do not be afraid," that feels like it leaves us somewhat in a vacuum, doesn't it? Maybe we get rid of fear - choose against it or whatever - but what are we supposed to put in its place?
This is where I love playing with language a little bit. Because slightly changing the dialect here, tweaking the words just a little bit, can give us a whole new perspective on what God is trying to get at. Instead of saying, "Do not be afraid," what if what God is really saying to us is, "Be not afraid"?
Now, maybe you're saying to me, that's the same thing. I promise you it's not. Maybe you're thinking that it's just semantics. Perhaps it is. But semantics have a lot to do with how we understand what is being said to us.
If what God is telling us is "do not be afraid," then what we have is a command of what not to do. We have guidance that tells us to stop ourselves from doing that, to not let that be the thing that we let ourselves do. This is why we feel the vacuum - we must do something, but what we do cannot be being afraid, so then, what are we supposed to do? Our apprehension/anxiety/nervousness/fear demands a response.
But if what God is telling us is "be not afraid," then what we have is a command of what we should be doing. We should be being not afraid. This is quietly different, I get it, but it's important here. Being not afraid means moving forward into the thing that we thought we were afraid of. It's choosing "not afraid" as a default for approach, filling us with the fullness of "not afraidness" rather than leaving us with a vacuum where our instinct to fight or flight or freeze fails us.
Once you've told me I should "be not afraid," you've told me what I should do and not what I shouldn't. You've given me an action plan. While we automatically feel some kind of shame or guilt over our fear when we are told "do not be afraid," telling us to "be not afraid" doesn't produce the same kind of shame or guilt. Because we're not being asked to stop being something that feels so natural and unavoidable to us; we're being asked to become something that we would have to choose.
Being not afraid is empowering.
It looks a little bit like courage, but not quite. It looks a little bit like boldness, but not quite that, either. Being not afraid doesn't make us want to conquer the world; it just gives us the strength to stand and to keep taking one firm, faithful step forward into the wind. Not charging forward with some kind of reckless abandon, but...not backing down. Not retreating. Not cowering.
Being not afraid gives us the strength to stop doing all kinds of things that we might naturally want to do (like cower or retreat or back down) and sure, God could have just told us not to do those things. But He knows that if He does, then we're left in the same vacuum of "do not be afraid" - then what do I do? Be not afraid.
Easier said than done, I know, but this little play in the language still makes a huge difference for those of us who are trying to live a bolder faith.
Be not afraid. Be "not afraid." Maybe I can do that.