If you’re a fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy you probably recognize today’s title. It’s also a quote from the Bible (and ironic in how I’m using it, given Douglas Adams’ views on religion), but as a sci-fi fan that phrase jumped out at me when reading Joshua precisely because of Hitchhiker’s Guide. In Adams’s novel, this phrase is written “in large, friendly letters on the cover” of the in-universe Hitchhiker’s Guide. Though it’s played humorously, in an interview with Sci Fi Weekly, Arthur C. Clarke (another sci-fi great) said he thinks “don’t panic” is “the best advice” he could give if addressing humanity as a whole.
While I suspect we could come up with better advice for the whole world than “don’t panic,” it is good advice. Panicking doesn’t do anyone much good. I’ve had many panic attacks, and when you’re panicking it’s hard to focus on anything else. For me, it’s like my chest is closing up, my stomach feels ill, and I start shaking all over. I just want to freeze or run. If it gets really bad, my skin starts prickling and I can’t stand being touched. Many people end up in the hospital with their first panic attack because they literally think they’re dying.
My anxiety has improved and panic attacks lessened significantly in more recent years. It’s still something I track carefully, though, and pray about regularly. I think C.S. Lewis is right when he says our anxieties are “afflictions, not sins” and that we should take them to God rather than feel paralyzed with guilt about them. Even so, there are many indications in the Bible that God doesn’t want us to live with panic, anxiety, and fear as part of our daily lives. It isn’t helpful to feel guilty about experiencing those things, but it’s also not good to just accept them as a normal part of life. God wants to help free us from the burden of panic. And that is good news for us and the whole world.
Courage to Live as Kingdom-Citizens
We just got home from celebrating Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles/Booths). This week-long festival that God commands us to observe (Lev. 23:33-43) reminds us that our lives here on earth are temporary. It also invites us to look forward to a future when “our earthly house of this tabernacle” will be replaced with a spirit body (2 Cor. 5:1, KJV) and the kingdom of God will be here on earth at last (as we looked at in our recent Isaiah Study).
Today, we are citizens of God’s kingdom but we’re not living in it yet. We’re still here on earth, like expatriates whose native land is the kingdom of God and who live in foreign countries. Sometimes those countries are nice places to stay. Other times, they’re actively hostile to people following God. When the world around us opposes us for being citizens of heaven, it would be easy to get scared. But Jesus encourages us to do something else.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be distressed or lacking in courage. …
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world.”John 1427; 16:33, NET
Jesus doesn’t mince words here. He promises peace, but He also says there’s going to be trouble for us in this world. We live in a place that’s war-torn, subject to natural disaster, faces famines, and is full of diseases and danger. There are many beautiful things in this world, but creation is fallen and captive, groaning as it awaits the future kingdom when Jesus will set all things right (Rom. 8:12-25). And on top of those troubles common to all people, many Christians in the world today face persecution for their faith.
If that were the end to the story, it’d be a wonder anyone wants to be a Christian. But the benefits far out weigh the temporary downsides. For one thing, “our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18, NET). In addition to the future we anticipate in God’s kingdom, we enjoy His presence, comfort, blessings, and aid right now. We can ask Him for help, confident that He will respond, just like the first-century church did. When they were threatened, they prayed for courage to keep teaching (Acts 4:18-31). God didn’t stop all the persecution, but He did answer their prayers. He even turned one of their most feared enemies into a highly effective apostle (Acts 8:1; 9:1-31; 1 Cor. 15:9-10). We can have both peace and courage as followers of God, even in a dangerous world.
Courage to Keep Going
I promised in the introduction that “don’t panic” isn’t just a sci-fi reference. It’s also a quote from the Bible. After Moses’s death, God entrusted Joshua with leading the Israelite people into the promised land. Joshua had seen all the things this people put Moses through in the 40 years since they’d left Egypt. He’d also spied out the land they were heading into, and knew the dangers they’d face there. The last time they’d tried to go into this land, Joshua had been confident that God would fight for them (Num. 14:6-8). Still, it’s understandable that he might have some worries now. God makes sure to address those worries when speaking with Joshua.
No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep. Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. This law scroll must not leave your lips. You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.Joshua 1:5-9, NET
What an incredible message of reassurance! Look how many times God says, “Be strong and brave,” and the reasons He gives for that courage and strength. “Don’t be afraid and don’t panic,” God says, “For I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.” And this wasn’t just a one-time promise to Joshua. We’ve also received promises from the Lord, saying, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you” (Heb. 13:5, WEB).
In Romans, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The answer, obvious to anyone whose been paying attention to the Old Testament record, Jesus’s gospel message, and Paul’s writings so far is that nothing can stand against us when God is with us in all that we do (Rom. 8:28-39).
Courage Thinking of the Future
Remember near the beginning when I said the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us there will be a time when “our earthly house of this tabernacle” will be replaced with a spirit body (2 Cor. 5:1, KJV)? Paul also talks about courage in this section of scripture. We live in temporary bodies, just like the Israelites lived in temporary shelters while traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land. We need courage to keep heading toward our own promise of a better future.
For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. … For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth we are absent from the Lord— for we live by faith, not by sight. Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him.1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-9, NET
Our hope for the future contextualizes our present worries. If I’m worried about what someone might think of me, it helps to remember that ultimately God’s the one whose opinion matters most. If I’m worried about a health concern, it’s a comfort to remember that my body is temporary and God plans to give me a better one. If I’m worried something’s going to go horribly wrong, it’s encouraging to remember God won’t let me go through anything by myself.
When it comes from God, “Don’t panic” is advice we have good reason to follow. He’s the Creator, the Sovereign Lord, the God of armies in heaven, the One in charge of how the whole story ends. He promises He’ll be with us. If we can remember that–if it really sinks in and feels real to us–then panicking will be the farthest thing from our minds. That doesn’t mean we’ll never feel worry or even panic, but it does put us in the mindset to welcome in the peace Jesus and Paul promise will guard our mins.
Featured image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Whom Shall I Fear [God Of Angel Armies]” by Chris Tomlin