We’ve been scared before.
I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961. I was a little girl, and didn’t really know much about what was happening, but I had heard enough and had watched enough war movies to be terrified when I heard a plane flying overhead. Like the adults around me, I was relieved when the Russian ships turned back at President Kennedy’s Naval Blockade.
I remember being sad, but also fearful, a couple of years later when the young president was assassinated. The tragedy brought the world together in grief for a time, but, as young as I was, I could feel the shift in our our worldview that happened on November 22, 1963.
I imagine anyone reading this post remembers exactly where they were when the Twin Towers fell during the horrific events of 9/11 and still recall the pit-of-the-stomach anxiety it brought — anxiety that, for some, has diminished, but never really gone away.
And now, this.
I know, there are lots of fun memes and posts that are helping us through this, right? But, behind them all, we know this pandemic has brought it’s threat right to our doorstep — not just to our smart phones every minute of every day, but to our hands and possibly the air we breathe.
Thankfully, it has brought out the best in us, for the most part, and also reflection on what is important. It has also brought a whole lot of talk, in person and online, about what an enemy fear is and how it should be avoided, and rightly so. Christians know that there are at least 365 “Fear not” greetings or admonitions found in the Bible. Sometimes, in the context of the church, the admonition that we should never live in fear — or never act in response to fear — is heard like this:
“Act as if you aren’t afraid.”
There isn’t anything wrong with that, really. The old adage, “Never let them see you sweat,” is good advice. However, there’s a balance to be found. Acting like we aren’t afraid becomes a problem if it causes us to make decisions that leave prudence behind. Another old saying rings true:
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
In other words, the same Bible that tells us not to fear also tells us that prudence “lives with wisdom.” Prudence sees the danger, and hides. Leaving prudence out of the equation is not what the admonition to “Fear not!” is all about.
Fear is a condition of the heart. It can come regardless of circumstances and without conscious reason, and in our present reality it is quite normal. No matter how or why it comes, it is tied to a sense of powerlessness, and that is never our friend. Not when God has said he has given us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. When we recognize fear’s presence, we can deal with it effectively, scripturally, by prayer and worship, by meditating on God’s promises and the finished work of the cross, and by answering the fear with His words. When we do that, our decisions will be made based on the wisdom written in the Word or on our hearts by the Voice of the Shepherd we have learned to recognize.
No one on this earth is immune to fear. I dare say that Jesus, who was tempted in all points “like as we are”, experienced fear. This might be a stretch, since it is not written so, but perhaps we can imagine and identify? Remember the temptations in the wilderness? One temptation was to throw himself off the height of the temple, “if you are the Son of God.” The precious, affirming words he had just heard his Father say, “This is my beloved son…”, were being challenged. Might he have been tempted to prove his sonship to the enemy who challenged the truth? Might he have been afraid that if he didn’t do it, it would mean he didn’t really trust what he had heard? If this challenge to the truth wasn’t something he needed to overcome, then it wasn’t really a temptation, was it? Thankfully, he didn’t succumb to the enemy’s taunt. He knew it wasn’t an opportunity to prove something to himself or to Satan; it was a temptation to do something dishonouring to His purpose. And a “Thou shalt not” scripture helped him choose rightly.
Sometimes, we who know the scriptures can feel like we have something to prove to the people around us, or to ourselves, and become tempted to do something foolish or dangerous to ourselves or others. We can become confused about what is an act of faith in response to truth and what is simply an imprudent action in response to fear of looking “less than”. In our present circumstance, it is crucial to get it right. And crucial to understand and trust both the scriptures and the voice of the Shepherd.
It’s not as straightforward as I might make it sound. Remember when the disciples were out on the sea, alone, on a stormy night and Jesus came to them, walking on the water? The apostle Peter had no scriptural basis that I know of to support his challenge to Jesus, “If it is you, tell me to come to you!” Perhaps his basis was the miracles he had seen Jesus do before. Honestly, it still sounds to me like a crazy idea, presumptuous in the extreme and definitely imprudent. It certainly would have been all of those things had he not received Jesus’ call. But Jesus said “Come,” and so he did. Not without incident as he looked at what was happening around him, but from what must have looked crazy to the other disciples, we have a great testimony that gives us courage to go when Jesus calls, even though it might not appear to be the wisest choice at the time.
These might be things we don’t think much about during our normal daily activities, though we who have raised children might remember teaching our children not to talk to strangers. We certainly didn’t want them to become fearful, but rather to be prudent. We wanted them to stay away from strangers when Mom and Dad weren’t around and, especially when they were very young, we didn’t let them wonder around on their own, even in familiar circumstances with familiar people. We wanted our eyes on them, because we don’t know even the familiar. But if we had told them to go to class with that new Sunday School teacher, we wanted them to trust us enough to do it.
These days the “unknowns” of our earth is obvious. While the days of Spring bring sunshine, warmth and more light, our news sources and our ever-present smart phones tell us daily that, in some important ways, our world is groping in darkness. With so much unknown, our choices must be made with regard not just to our own faith and well-being, but with the well-being of our neighbours in mind.
In the midst of all of this, can I encourage you? In Smooth Stones and Promises, I wrote about the beautiful valley we live in:
“…from the time we enter this earth as tiny, vulnerable babies until the day we leave, we’re shadowed by the presence of death. In the bright and beautiful home God created for his family, where Adam walked clothed in Glory, there was a tragic day when then light went out.”
But notice how Psalm 23 turns on a light for us in whatever dark place we find ourselves. In “Smooth Stones…” I continued with this:
“…even on this earth where death and darkness must be allowed to remain for a time, we need not fear. It’s because, ‘Thou art with me.’ Adam’s righteous and sovereign God had provided a remedy: The Light Himself is with us.”
This crisis will come to an end, and we will all be so glad! I foresee parties, backyard barbecues, road trips and even cruises! In so many ways we will celebrate life and relationships. We’ll breath deep and easy!
Challenges will certainly still show up now and then, so let us learn this lesson and take it with us: Whatever we do, lets do it with trust and faith, and always with the expectation that light will shine. Let’s learn to examine our own hearts, and choose to listen to the wisdom prudence, not fear, brings.
“Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence,” (Ephesians 1:8). KJV
“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7). KJV