Be afraid…be veeeeeerrrrrrry afraid…..
In my opinion, this is the motto of our age, especially if you read it in some quivering, harrowing voice like in horror films. Fear is in the air. We breathe it in, and it travels up and down our bloodstream, from our heart to our head and back again. Fear becomes part and parcel to our very being. It cultivates paranoia that has no rootedness in reality. It needs no evidence because it creates its own, even if the evidence is solely imaginary. It prefers ignorant distance over vulnerable intimacy. It prefers simplistic sound bites over well-reasoned arguments. In this regard, most forms of social media are perfect conduits of fear, contributing to its pervasiveness.
Perhaps the most insidious characteristic of fear is how quickly it draws us into vicious cycles. Fear causes us to see the worst in others, and therefore, it brings out the worst in us. The violent man makes everyone else nervous, and in so doing brings out the violence in them. We fear the man with the gun, which is why we carry guns. We fear the refugee; therefore, we cannot open our doors (or borders) to them. We fear the Muslim; therefore, we paint them with the broadest and darkest strokes. We fear the other race; therefore we judge them by their worst actions but our own race by its grandest achievements.
Fear causes us to act out of our instincts, like animals. Predator or prey. Fight or flight. Attack or be attacked. People who are motivated by fear are perpetually reflexive. They cannot act proactively, living out of their deepest virtues. They need an enemy in order to know who they are, because they do not have an identity of their own. They spend more time placing blame than seeking solutions. They are more fascinated with walls than doors. They often talk about protection and security, and rarely about inclusion and reconciliation. They always see the need for war, but are blind for the need for peace. They cannot cross the aisle because they spend their lives enforcing the need for one.
Into this context, Scripture challenges us at every turn. Bible statisticians tell us that the phrase “Don’t be afraid,” is one of the most prevalent in Scripture. Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8.26) 1 John says, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4.18). Honestly, I expect the verse to say, “Perfect love casts out hatred,” but that’s not what it says. In the Bible, it’s fear, not hatred, that is the opposite of love. Have you ever thought about the fact that it’s nearly impossible to love someone you fear or to fear someone you love? We cannot love our neighbor so long as we refuse to live in close enough proximity to even know them as neighbors, simply because we are afraid of them.
Isn’t it time for the church to bear witness to the reality of God’s love which casts out fear? Isn’t it time for the church to get to know real Muslims, rather than judge their faith by the very ones that distort it? Isn’t it time for the church to open doors to refugees (the Bible speaks about refugees a time or two doesn’t it?) rather than triple locking them? Isn’t it time for the church to challenge unfounded fears rather than pass them on? Isn’t it time for the church to speak truthfully about others? Isn’t it time for the church to act out of the best of our gospel rather than the worst of our world? Isn’t it time for the church to oppose the evil in the world without mirroring it? Isn’t it time for the church to pro-act because we have been shaped by the profound love of God rather than re-act because our fear of the other has a grip on us?
Were we to dig down to the most foundational basis for the evil in our world, were we to identify its most demonic source, were we to locate its primal origin, what we would discover is fear. Fear is the fuel on which evil thrives. If we are to make a difference in this world in any substantial way, we must do the opposite of fear. Call it love. Call it courage. Call it faith. But whatever you call it, do that!
The times call for a people with strength enough to love. Our day demands that we see the truth in the other rather than the threat in them. Our world is crying out for someone who will reach across the aisle because they care more about losing their lives than winning a manufactured culture war.
Church…this is our time. These are our days. Here is our chance.
So do not fear, for I am with you. Isaiah 41.10