There is something sinister roaming freely through the hearts of people. It appears like a fog, simple and light at first; but soon it has enveloped everything that was once seen clearly, and worn away at the trust of anything other than “the self.” What was once visible and known, what was once truth, is now shrouded in uncertainty. This feeling has managed to turn brother against sister and mother against son. It has created enemies of friends, and has withered relationships. And it has been doing it for a very long time.
It is a small word for something that is so pervasive, so powerfully destructive. It has many masks: terror, anxiety, doubt, worry, uneasiness, trepidation, revulsion, panic, distress. Each costume it dons allows it to slip unnoticed into the actions and thoughts of humanity. It masquerades within the ranks of “values” and “truths” and “ideals”. It hides behind ideas like “security” or “protection” and it whispers to us that it can save us, all while it continues to isolate and divide.
Fear is able to obscure good things, and enhance evil. Fear has the power to raise leaders and to bury the masses. It constricts the sense of “the other” and emboldens the sense of “the familiar”. It tells us that things outside of us will ruin us, that “different” means change, and change is just a synonym for destruction.
Fear has managed to grip the hearts and minds of people from various backgrounds in a vice, to seemingly change good hearted people into monsters. Fear is the reason that a racist billionaire with no sense of loyalty or empathy is one step away from leading the most racially and economically diverse country in the world. Fear is the reason that thousands of people fleeing death and persecution in their home land were turned away from countries equipped to be a refuge for them. Fear is the reason those intended to protect and serve are instead looked upon with anger and distrust by much of the population; the reason that communities are divided instead of united in understanding and empathy.
I have to say, I’m tired of fear. In fact, in an odd way, I am not at all afraid. I know that with everything happening in the world today, I should be. But I’m not. I’m mostly saddened by how thoroughly this destructive force has taken hold of good and decent people and awoken the monster within. I’m angry that it has managed to divide where there was once unity, and continues to separate where there has always been division. I am not afraid anymore. I am heartbroken. I am emotionally exhausted. In many ways I am numb.
But I am not afraid.
I believe this is the Gospel - this is what is meant by Freedom in Christ. I am sure of my salvation, and I am certain that Jesus walks with me. Moreover, I am certain that God’s power is greater than anything in this world. Jesus is bigger than terrorists. He is bigger than change, bigger than sin, bigger than my own ability to mess things up over and over again.
Why is the Church living in fear? It seems to me that the people who should be the least afraid of the world are the ones who speak the loudest from a place of fear. I’m not sure if it’s fear of going to Hell, fear of losing comfortability in the culture, or fear of the unknown, but it’s there.
The Church is afraid that gay people getting married is the beginning of the end for religious freedom. On the contrary, the separation of church and state helps us in our freedom to profess Christ - it just means we can legislate it. The Church is afraid of being seen as liberal or progressive, particularly socially, because it’s afraid of being lumped in with people who might not share every value with it.
Jesus was not afraid to be labeled a sinner as he dined with sinners. He was not afraid to bring change to the world. He stood for love, particularly where a marginalized group was being oppressed. He preached that all fall short of God’s law, and that he had come to seek and save the lost. The fact of the matter is, Jesus already lumped us in with the things we don’t want to be associated with. He already changed everything. Grace is the biggest, most unfair change in the world, and he made us a part of it.
We should be the ones who are courageously going where others can’t. Where other people are bound by fear, we are free in the Gospel - we are free in Christ for the purpose of reaching out to those the world is afraid of. We are free to attach ourselves to the people and places that the world shames. We can even be part of something our own churches shy away from. Jesus had supper with prostitutes and thieves. Jesus opposed the marginalization of people groups, oppression of people in power, and violent action. Jesus promoted peace, love, and grace - and he did so from a place of confidence while labeled a sinner.
Fear keeps love at arms length - isn’t it time that we pushed fear out of the way in order to love better?
It’s not easy: I don’t mean to trivialize how huge of a paradigm shift this is. Often, I feel the confines of fear beginning to close in again, and I have to steel myself against it’s onslaught. I have to focus on Jesus so that I can focus on others, and let the fear fall away. It’s difficult. But shouldn’t we all strive for it? Isn’t this what Jesus means when he says “I will be with you always” after sending us out into the farthest corners of the world? I think it is. I believe that each of us has a responsibility to check our fear and try and overcome it, to rely more fully on the truth of Christ and the hope of the Gospel.
Fear is paralyzing. It destroys our ability to think clearly, and especially to think of anything other than our own status quo. It makes us do and say things we normally wouldn’t do, out of some misguided sense of self preservation. It keeps us from seeing a larger picture, and it keeps love behind walls. It's a vicious cycle, a self fulfilling prophecy. It blinds us to the truth and isolates us from love, empathy, understanding, and community.
I think we are made for more than fear.
I think we have the power to conquer that fear.
We have been made free in the Gospel because of God’s love. But we have also been made free for a purpose: to live without fear.