We all have fears it is a natural, powerful, primitive emotion. Fear may be healthy, or unhealthy. It is a recurring reality which we can learn to deal with. Walls, fences, alarm systems indicate our common fear of intruders. Add to that the invisible menace of Covid-19, global warming, violent crime, political turbulence and constant wars and it becomes a toxic mix producing fearful tensions on a personal, social, and international level.
Perspectives on fear appear in the Bible. Adam hid in the garden. Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah all experienced it. Mary, the shepherds, the disciples, the women on resurrection morning were told not to be afraid. Fear is nothing to be ashamed of. Jesus did not condemn it he showed compassion wherever he found it. Being human Jesus knew fear. Facing immanent death he prayed ‘If it be possible let this cup pass from me’, but then he dealt with it, saying ‘Nevertheless!’ His love for God and resolute commitment to do his will transcended the fear of what others could do to his body. Martyrs have shown the same resolution when confronted with death. Their passion and trust in God was stronger than their fear.
The psalmist said ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps 111:10). Don’t misunderstand this; it does not mean God is a bad guy to be feared. It means to recognize his sovereignty is a solid foundation for wise, wholesome living. Jesus reassured his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid’. Living with Jesus John’s discovery was ‘There is no fear in love’ (1 Jon 4:18). Reality is what it is and when things turn inescapably ugly fear intrudes. Our present times are scary and when fear enters our thinking, we want to know – how to get a handle on it? If we cannot ‘check out’ to avoid it, how do we deal with it?
We can seek assistance from others who have greater knowledge, medical, psychological and therapeutic skills. It is reassuring to remember some fears form part of our natural human development; loud bangs, heights, falling, the future, certain creatures, being left alone, losing control, cancer, dying, hunger, confined spaces, darkness, are all common human experiences. To that list we must add threats we cannot control – nuclear and cyber threats, collapse of the stock-market, gang warfare, racial turbulence and sporadic terrorism. We live in scary times, human life appears to have no meaning or value, some even talk of doomsday.
Praise God, we are not subject to air strikes or the evils of a brutal, military regime, however, for many in our society the fear of brutal treatment, undisguised hostility, discrimination and injustice, by only being who they are, is a continuing reality. Such fears could be eliminated by understanding, social justice, equity and reconciliation. If the fear is of a psychological nature, or phobia there are therapies and medications prescribed to dispel it. Being brave or courageous does not eliminate fear, it goes into action despite the feeling, regardless of the consequences. Fear can either be destructive or creative. Convinced by the latter some accept it as a challenge, or an opportunity for adventure in order to achieve objectives or develop new strengths, knowledge and experience.
Life is a mixture of activity and rest, comedy and drama, success and failure. Some debilitating fears originate in the imagination and may never materialize. Before panicking, we must ‘take a breath’, pause and reflect – is it feasible, is it realistic, is it immanent or life threatening, is it telling me some truth about myself? Some fears may arise from what others may think of us, or from being exposed following a shameful act. It is our consciousness that gives rise to such fears, however we can also become conscious of God and aware of the truth of who, in truth, we really are – a living soul. We cannot, by anything we have done, or have done to us, be separated from his presence.
Today we have at our disposal the computer for information and the cell phone for assistance. For reassurance we can seek the counsel of someone we trust, but in the end coping with fear is ‘an inside job’. Prayer can provide a protective wall of faith and gratitude enabling us to live in the moment, to listen and let something of God enter our inner tensions. God is within, sharing our experience, ready to equip us. The words of the song ‘You’ll never walk alone’ can be as a megaphone in our mind reminding us of the solid promise of Christ. At Sunday service a candle is lit as a reminder that Christ’s light can penetrate the darkness created by any fear. Our body may feel fear, but being a unique creation of God, his Spirit is within us and his unconditional love embraces us every moment. We are unique and precious in his sight and he will fortify us with the ability to cope.