By Mark Wingfield
Americans these days are addicted to fear.
Fear, of course, is a natural emotional response that God has given us for good reason. It is fear that helps us not put a hand in the fire or leap out of a moving car. But fear applied in excess or at the wrong times may paralyze us, keep us from creativity or actually bring us harm.
Think of fear like a controlled substance. Many medications that do a world of good when used properly may also kill us if used in excess or in improper ways. Addiction happens when something occasionally useful becomes harmful through continued dependency.
Americans these days are addicted to fear. We live in a constant cycle of outrage and dire warnings. Politicians and marketers alike attempt to motivate us with fear — motivate us to vote for them or to buy their products. Of course, preachers have not been immune to using fear as a motivator either; there’s a reason we talk about “fire and brimstone” sermons.
What’s different today is that many of us seem to derive pleasure from being scared to death. We need the constant fix of the 24-hour news channel, the never-ending bloggers and the weekly coffee clatch. It no longer matters whether the fear is based in reality or even based in likelihood.
One interesting example of this is that a majority of Americans believes all manner of awful threats are worse today than ever before: crime, murder, rape, threats to children. And yet the cold, hard facts tell us exactly the opposite: Especially for Americans, the world never has been a safer place. Compared to historical trends, all measures of the above-mentioned atrocities are declining, not increasing. But the cable news reporters can’t stand in an empty field and declare, “Nothing bad happened here today.” That’s not the way news works.
Sadly, Christians are among the leading addicts to fear. Much of our moral outrage is fueled by fear, and we just can’t stop talking about it. We fear pollution of our holiness by a secular society. We fear losing our children to the siren song of the faithless. We fear becoming a minority voice. We fear losing control and influence.
And yet … the overarching message of the Bible is, “Fear not.” From the Old Testament to the New Testament, from angelic visitations to the words of Jesus himself, people of faith are encouraged not to become addicted to fear.
Just two Sundays ago, we heard this message from the prophet Isaiah: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
How might we renew our belief in this message of holy Scripture? How might we break the cycle of addiction to fear? As they say, the first step is to acknowledge you have a problem: We are the church, and we are addicted to fear.