A phobia is an extreme fear or dislike of something without a rational reason for the feeling. Phobias are usually classified as anxiety disorders, and most people who suffer from phobias recognize that their fears are not reflective of reality. For example, someone might be terrified of the color blue for no apparent reason. The blue-fearing person may know that such a fear is silly but is helpless to change his physical response to it. Common phobias include agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s safe zone), social phobia (fear of being around people), claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces), acrophobia (fear of heights), and glossophobia (fear of public speaking). Some phobias can be crippling.
In many cases, exposure therapy provided by a competent therapist can help people with phobias overcome their fears. In other cases, a person may have an underlying reason for the phobia. Uncovering that hidden truth can help people view their fears from a different perspective. Others may have no clear explanation for their fear, but the fear is real nonetheless. The human psyche is complex and multi-faceted. Two people may experience the same event at the same time but react to it in opposite ways. The good news is that our Creator understands this about us. Psalm 103:13–14 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” If we know the Lord, we can take comfort in His promise that He understands and has compassion.
Many times Christians with phobias struggle with feeling they are disappointing God because of their fear. Other well-meaning Christians can make this worse by over-simplifying the solution: “Just trust the Lord!” they say, and then go on their merry ways, believing they have resolved a complex problem with a simplistic cliché. A Christian who feels overwhelmed by phobic fear needs compassion and help, not judgment and dismissal. It is true that throughout Scripture we are told to, “Fear not!”, but this command is never given as an indictment on the fearful; rather, the command to fear not comes to us as a loving mother comforting her child who has awakened in the night from a bad dream.
In our current cultural climate, the use of the word phobia has been wrenched from its original meaning and applied to Christians who disagree with sins that society now accepts or even celebrates. The term homophobia is used as a club to pummel anyone who attempts to explain the Bible’s prohibition against homosexual activity. This is a misuse of the word phobia because opposition to sexual sin is based upon the time-tested Word of God, not personal fear. While there are always outlandish and vicious people on any side who claim to represent the rest, most people who disagree with the LGBTQ agenda are not “homophobes.” They simply do not believe that truth changes just because society wants it to. Homosexuality has always been wrong and always will be wrong no matter what culture decrees (1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Those who do not believe that a person can change genders on a whim are not “transphobes”; they are representing several millennia of established human understanding, based upon creation (Genesis 1:27; 5:2).
For the child of God, phobias are issues to be overcome, not barriers to seeking God. Romans 8:38–39 reminds us that nothing, not even fear, can separate us from the love of God. We are invited to cast all our fears—and phobias—on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). In a practical way, that casting may mean choosing not to let the fear dictate our choices. When fear is the basis for our decisions, we allow something besides the Holy Spirit to control us, and that makes fear our functional god. In overcoming a fear of flying, a believer may choose to say, “I am terrified to get on that plane. But I know that God’s plan for me is to fly to another location, so I would be disobeying Him to let fear rule me. I will take an anti-anxiety pill if needed, close my eyes the whole time if needed, pray the entire flight and kiss the ground when I arrive, but I will not let fear be my god.” When we choose that approach, phobias lose their stranglehold on us.
In Joshua 1:1–9, God commands Joshua to take over for Moses in leading the Israelites. Three times in that short passage, God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous, for I am with you.” People who suffer from phobias can take that to heart. If courage came naturally to Joshua, God would not have had to remind him three times to fear not. Apparently, Joshua was experiencing some overwhelming fears of his own and felt inadequate to the task before him. God did not scold him; God empowered him. And He will do the same for any of His children who are overcome with phobias, because the God who strengthened Joshua is the God who will strengthen us.