Is anyone still here? 🙂
And before I know it, it’s been over four months since I’ve written anything on this here blog. And after I teased all three of you that something big was coming. 🙂 Sorry about that.
Something big IS coming from me, and a lot of why I haven’t said anything here lately is that besides being exceptionally busy, this has turned out to be much bigger than I thought, and has required a bit more incubation. But I won’t leave you hanging. I’ll share about it very soon.
Meanwhile, here’s what prompted me to show up here after all these months: I have a few observations to make about fear, and how deeply it affects our actions–as humans, as Christians, as nations.
WATCH THE NEWS (WAIT, NO, DON’T)
All you have to do is watch the evening news, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to fear these days. Just a couple of days ago, the otherwise quiet town of Colorado Springs (about 70 miles from here) experienced its second mass shooting in three weeks. Before that, we were talking about ISIS and Paris, and the whole controversy that’s now stirring over whether or not it’s safe to aid Syrian refugees. And more mass shootings–in schools, churches, walking down the street. It’s definitely a troubled time for the world.
But there’s more. In recent years, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve become largely apolitical, simply because I haven’t found any candidate on either side that I can actually get behind. As I’ve been watching the whole political landscape come to life as we approach the next major election in this country, I’ve been doing more than watching the 4-year circus unfold (which seems to be especially sensational this go-round); I’ve also been listening to the rhetoric. And I’m amazed at how much fear-mongering is happening on both sides of the aisle. Acts of international terrorism prompt conservatives to call for heightened border screening, turning away refugees and even registering Muslims (what are we, Nazi Germany now?). But the liberals do it, too: every time there is a domestic mass shooting, they issue stronger calls for gun control laws. (Not that this is a bad idea–it’s the political motivation I’m going after here.) It would seem that whoever is going to win this election is going to be the one touting the issue that Americans are most fearful of. And if you know your history, you know what a potentially dangerous scenario can set up when a leader preys upon the people’s fears. Just saying…
But this is really nothing new. I’ve been pondering this issue, and I’m amazed at how many injustices in the world happen not just because of hatred, but because of fear. So many times in our history, one people group oppresses another because fear drives them to oppression in an attempt to bring things under control. Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites because he feared their numbers in Egypt. The Holocaust happened because Hitler convinced his people that the Jews left unchecked were a people to be feared. Around the same time in America, we interned thousands and thousands of Japanese-Americans in camps because we were at war with Japan and we feared they might be spies. I just watched the movie Trumbo, which addresses the time in recent history in which whole groups of film professionals in Hollywood were unfairly censured and ostracized for their political leanings, simply because politicians and other Americans feared anyone leaning far left might be siding with the Russians during the Cold War. The whole immigration issue today is also fear-based. People want to build a wall to keep out the Mexicans who are overrunning our borders and taking our jobs. Fear, fear, fear.
I actually don’t care where you stand on these issues, but if fear is the motivation, your view is skewed by a filter that distorts reality in some way. Fear distorts our perception.
And here’s the part that’s really eye-opening: a huge part of this fear is tied to religion. Think about it, and you’ll find plenty of examples of what I’m talking about, both in history and in the modern day.
THE CHURCH IS PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE
I find it particularly troublesome how common it is for Christians to buy into fear-mongering, despite the Bible’s repeated admonitions to “fear not.” Think about the Crusades. The Inquisition. The Catholic Church’s treatment of Copernicus for daring to suggest that the earth revolves around the sun. Then bring it closer to today. If you are a believer, did you come to Christ because some preacher warned you about how hot hell is? What about the so-called “Culture War?” Are we really taking a stand for righteousness, or is it more because we’re afraid of losing our “way of life?” Think about all the rhetoric that we hear about how the liberals are taking over and eventually Christians in America are going to face persecution. Think about that county clerk in Kentucky who went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Again, regardless of where you stand on that issue, think about all the fear-mongering that has gone on. Christians seem to be among the first to jump onto any conspiracy theory bandwagon. Is that really healthy?
I’m actually amazed when I look back at my life growing up in church, then serving within it, how many choices I made as a result of fear. I remember my church showoing a series of Christian films about people left behind during the Tribulation, and I lived in constant fear that I could miss the rapture with one misstep. I avoided rock music because I was told it attracted demons. Even into adulthood, I feared bringing certain books and movies into my home because I didn’t want to “open the door” to darkness. And even when I became a pastor, I lived in constant fear that someone in my church would undermine me, sabotage me, destroy the church. I frequently made decisions that put the church vision over the people in the church because I believed that I needed to preserve the church vision (and my position within it) at all costs. I look back, and I’m simply devastated when I think about all the choices I’ve made in my life and ministry that were motivated by fear. The Bible says “fear hath torment.” No wonder I’ve felt so tormented for so long.
I’m going on and on about this because I want to demonstrate how deep fear goes into our culture, and how many different ways it shows up.
I don’t know the exact statistic, but when you consider how many “worst case scenarios” actually come to pass, the number is exceptionally small. Most things we fear don’t actually happen, or if they do, it isn’t as bad as we thought. Most of the suffering that happens comes as a result of our fearful reactions, not that what we feared came to pass. And once again, a huge part of the Bible is devoted to teaching us not to fear.
Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this issue right now because of the big stuff going on in my life that I still haven’t told you about yet. 🙂 Let’s just say for the moment that my family is getting ready to embark on one of the biggest and scariest ventures any of us have ever been part of. A lot of great things can come of it, but it’s not without risk, and our family has had a multitude of conversations about worrying and fearing what might go wrong in the process. This whole situation is literally bringing all our fears to the surface and making us deal with them. It’s about as far away from comfortable as you can get, but it actually feels sort of healthy. I have to make a conscious decision almost every day not to dwell on the stuff that might go wrong. I have to choose to “fear not.” And when I do, believe it or not, I stop being afraid in that moment. I remind myself that God is with us, and He’s guiding our path, and that it’s okay not to be in control of every detail. It’s actually quite empowering.
THE WHOLE POINT
Here’s where I’m going with all this: I think we as Christians actually have a Biblical mandate to combat fear. (See the Scriptures at the end of this post.) No matter how scary the world is, and no matter what worst-case scenarios might happen, we’ll manage through it all much better without fear. In the end times, Jesus said, men’s hearts would fail them for fear–but He never said that should happen to us. In fact, He admonished us to take courage even during times of tribulation because He has overcome the world. In short–we aren’t supposed to be buying into the world’s fear. We’re supposed to be rising above it.
Here’s just one example of how this plays out. Right now, there’s a lot of fear about the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly because it’s now been demonstrated that it’s possible for ISIS terrorists to sneak in unawares. It’s caused many governors of many different states to warn that their state will NOT accept Syrian refugees. And from a certain point of view, that makes sense–after all, it’s the job of the leaders to protect the citizens from possible threats. But what bothers me is how many of us Christians are towing the Republican line on this one. What about all those people who aren’t terrorists? Is it really a Christlike response to turn these people away simply because of the few who might be?
What happened to not loving our lives even unto death? What if Jesus had been that self-protective?
And what about the fact that by executing a fearful response–whether it’s by rejecting refugees or waging war–we are literally fulfilling the terrorists’ wishes? News flash, folks–they WANT us to be afraid, and to act out of fear. They’re counting on it, in fact.
But what if we didn’t act out of fear? What if we chose to assume the risks because it’s the right thing to do? Because it’s what Jesus would do? What kind of change could happen for the better if American Christians started thinking more like Christ and less like Americans?
If there’s anything I’m learning from all this, it’s that I actually have more of a choice in whether or not to fear than I realized. The entire implication of the phrase “fear not” suggests we DO have a choice in the matter. I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it won’t be a fight, but by disciplining our minds and hearts to focus on the Lord and silence our fears, we actually have more ability to gain power over fear than we think. Not only does this help us live better, but I believe it also helps us make better decisions. For me, I still have plenty of opportunities to fear, but I’m also finding I have more power to silence that menace than I thought.
Just food for thought, y’all.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Tim. 1:7
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18