Fear—how our human hearts are prone to it. We’re initiated as children with fears of the dark, of strangers, of monsters under the bed—only to continue to fears of public speaking, of people’s opinions, of money and financial stability. Our composed adult facades hide our fears of loneliness, of failure, of rejection, of the future, but inside we’re often still the small child cowering with the covers held with white knuckles over our heads.
Sadly the church is often no different. We’re afraid of being “led astray” by others’ beliefs, so we villainize and withdraw from those with different opinions and perspectives, even if they would call themselves fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re afraid of our children being corrupted, so we shelter them in Christian bubbles. We’re simultaneously afraid of losing ground in society and becoming tainted by it. We get swept up in a culture of fear in which voices rise calling us to exclude those of different beliefs or carpet bomb those we consider to be our enemies.
Why are the voices coming from the church (or those claiming to be the church) no different from those within our culture? Why are the voices of Christians rising in fear?
Fear makes our souls shrivel, drawing back faith, drying up love. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the picture of abundant life he offers us. This is not faith.
I recently heard Steve Haas, vice president of World Vision, share a poignant story about this. On a trip to Vietnam documenting the situation of imprisoned Christians, he found himself in a van packed with Vietnamese believers. His friend, from the driver’s seat, asked everyone who had been imprisoned because of Jesus to raise their hands. All through the van, hands went into the air—except for Steve and one young Vietnamese teenager. He says he immediately felt uncomfortable and singled out, sticking out as the white guy who’d had it easy. An old pastor sitting behind him, reached forward and tapped Steve’s shoulder insistently with his palm. Tap, tap, tap—then a line of Vietnamese, which sent the others in the van into fits of laughter. Steve begged for a translation—“How do you overcome your fear of prison?” As the laughter died down, the man leaned forward again, with another tap, tap, tap on Steve’s shoulder. The words that came from his lips this time, though, brought an instantaneous silence. Steve again pleaded for someone to translate—“How do you overcome your fear of prison?—You go to prison.”
Combating our sophisticated fears is hardly different than combating our childhood ones. Hiding under the covers does nothing. Facing the darkness head on or bravely looking under the bed begins to prove to us that our fear is misplaced and unneeded. The comforting presence of a loving parent gives us security and protection, even when bad things happen.
I am not suggesting we respond unwisely and then slap the label of faith on our foolhardy actions. The Lord has given us minds to reason, to analyze, and to plan for a reason. Fear binds us; it does nothing to help us act wisely. When we can set aside fear, we are released into a freedom to act truly out of fact and faith.
How do we fight against fear? We walk out bravely to face the world in the confidence of our Father’s love. We get to know those different from us—and relationship and understanding keeps them from becoming our enemy. We look with discerning eyes on our world and look for ways God is on the mission of bringing his kingdom and partner with him in them. We lift our futures, our finances, our children, our nation before our Father’s eyes and rest in the peace of his faithful loving-kindness.
Dear ones, our crucified Lord says to us, “Do not be troubled. Do not be afraid.” May our hearts open and flourish in his love for us and for our world—may the crippling power of fear dissipate so that we can embrace the world with love and compassion.