Fear, according to the magazine Psychology Today, is “a vital response to physical and emotional danger — if we didn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason.”That seems like a pretty good definition. There are things we should be afraid of — legitimate threats to our health and happiness. And there are imagined fears of things that really don’t have any power to hurt us.In today’s first reading, God tells the prophet Isaiah to give the following message to the people of Israel, “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” There was a book that came out a few years ago called, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff.” Author Richard Carlson was of the opinion that fear is one of our greatest obstacles to happiness. Fear leads to timidity, timidity leads to inaction, and inaction leads to unhappiness. Carlson says we shouldn’t be afraid of anything. It would appear that God agrees: “Fear not,” God says, with no qualifications or distinction.Disabilities and drought would probably be considered legitimate fears. God overcomes them. It isn’t easy to “be strong” when threats to our well-being loom, or when our loved ones are in pain or need. But God calls us to fear not.I certainly know how to “sweat the small stuff.” I’ve been doing it for most of my life. What happens, in my experience, is that by worrying about the future I lose the ability to enjoy the present. However, the future hasn’t happened yet, so all I’m really doing by worrying, or being fearful, is diminishing today.Maybe, for those of us who follow God, there is no such thing as a legitimate fear. It makes sense, in a way, that there is nothing in this world more powerful than God. By fearing loss, rejection, illness or pain, we are attributing power to these things. Maybe that’s why we’re often called to “fear the Lord,” acknowledging the truth that God is the most powerful source of happiness in our lives. There are certainly plenty of things to be afraid of in our current context — many of which would fit Psychology Today’s definition of “legitimate.” Thousands of soldiers stand in harm’s way. People continue to lose homes and jobs and savings. And, if you believe each major political party, doomsday is at hand if the opposition party wins the next election. God paints a different picture through Isaiah. ”Here is your God,” says Isaiah. “He comes with vindication; with divine recompense; he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”Disabilities and drought would probably be considered legitimate fears. God overcomes them. It isn’t easy to “be strong” when threats to our well-being loom, or when our loved ones are in pain or need. But God calls us to fear not. That doesn’t mean we deny that the threats exist. It means we remember that the unconditional love of God is more powerful than any of them. Bill Peatman writes from Napa. He may be reached at [email protected]