“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18
When you turn on the television, look at a news website, even engage in some social media, what you likely feel is fear. Fear cuts across political affiliation, race, gender, religion, denomination, or any of the other endless things that divide us. You may think it’s anger, but anger is a secondary emotion. Someone once told me, “if you want to see how fearful I am, watch how angry I get.” It’s fear.
In another important book in my life, we find these words about fear: “This short word somehow touches about every area of our lives. It is an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our lives is shot through with it.” Most people, I think, are as unaware of this thread as I was for much of my life. At the base of many of the problems we face and manufacture is not a position or circumstance that needs to be corrected as much as it is an emotion that needs to be addressed. We’re soaked in fear.
My daughter, some years ago, sent me a cartoon of a young woman, obviously distraught, head buried in her hands. The caption read, “I’m not anxious! I’m just extremely well educated about all the things that can go catastrophically wrong!” You can call it anxiety if you wish, but that’s only a less intimidating term than fear. It’s fear.
Good capitalists that we are, we’ve even found a way to make money off of fear. Media understand clearly that the way to garner attention is to convince us that we continually border on apocalypse or have crossed into it completely. Fear is big business. It’s a wonder any of us can breathe.
Let’s confess the obvious: fear indeed touches our lives in an infinite variety of ways. We don’t make any progress by refusing to acknowledge a problem. Once we identify it, we can begin to deal honestly with it.
Actually, we’re wired for fear. The part of your brain that produces fear and the cascade of avoidance responses associated with it (e.g. jumping away from a stick that looks like a snake) operates much more quickly than the part of your brain that is devoted to wisdom, weighing decisions, and anticipating consequences. It’s a survival instinct that can get us through the next 15 seconds safely. But it can be misleading; hilariously so when we jump and squeal at a plastic spider; horribly so when we so focus on a sliver of a problem and begin treating like its 90% of reality.
The fact is we develop a habit of fear and then begin to justify its existence. I had a colleague once who could imagine 100 different catastrophic results and be right only once. But that one time convinced her that she needed to keep imagining catastrophic results in order to “be prepared.” Many of you just read that last sentence and are nodding your head in agreement. Keep reading.
Though fear in a sense is natural, it also impedes our closeness to God. God did not create us to live anxious lives. Jesus warned us that worry does not take away tomorrow’s problems. It only robs you of today’s peace. Let’s accept the diagnosis. Fear is the problem.
So, what is the solution? The opposite of fear is trust, and it is at this point that God constantly tries to assure us. John wrote that perfect love casts out fear. He meant that if we love God constantly and deeply then fear is an impossibility. I don’t have a perfect love for God, but God has perfect love for me. God is saying, “You can be secure in My love for you. So, love me. Trust Me. I will not let you down. I will either show you how your fear is irrational, or I will carry you through the fearful events you encounter.”
Trust is the pathway to the future. A Jesuit priest tells of visiting with Mother Teresa. She asked, “How may I pray for you?” He thought for a moment and replied, “For clarity.” Mother Teresa dismissed his request saying, “I will not pray for that for you. You will never have clarity. I will pray that you have trust.”
Fear keeps us wanting and waiting for more clarity, a request God rarely grants. We see through a glass darkly, and that means we see few things about the future clearly. God always grants us enough clarity to take the next step. That one step in turn enables us to take another, but only with trust.
You may be wrestling with some idea, project, impression that you may think is from God. It’s likely He has given you enough to take the next step. God is not Mapquest where with a few clicks you have the whole trip laid out for you from start to finish. Trust only operates one step at a time. Trust and take the step.
What do we do practically here? The best antidote to fear, and the best expression of trust, is gratitude. When you are fearful, pause and think of something you’re grateful for. Thank God for it. That simple prayer makes you aware of a way that God has taken care of you. It’s a spiritual reminder that as He has acted in the past, He will certainly act in the present and the future. Gratitude is the fertile soil of trust.
Personally, I find this to be a fascinating time to be alive, a true proving ground for faith. I cannot abide the voices of doom, for I will not put more trust in them than I put in God assurance that He is real and takes care of me and has a role for me to play in bringing His grace and peace to this troubled world. Good will come out of the events swirling around us. Our nation is vexed with some thorny historical problems and present manifestations of them. But we also possess a time-proven process that provides for our correction. I simply refuse to embrace fear. For me that means carefully steering away from anger and increasing both my time in prayer and scripture. When I feel the rising negative emotions I intentionally pause and pray. That is my choice. I invite you to try it.
Many times, we feel so overwhelmed that we forget we have a choice. You DO. It has been restored to you through your faith in Jesus Christ. The world will constantly try to steal it from you, but God has sovereignly granted you the power to choose Him in any situation. You are not alone. The world will spin as it has spun with its problems since the beginning. God, in His infinite love, has a place for you right next to Him.
And you also may want to turn off the blasted television and pray.
Dr. Terry Ellis
June 14, 2020