By Marv Knox
It’s ludicrous, all right. Preposterous, even. But make no mistake: Fear misappropriates logic and steals perspective. It robs people of the ability to think clearly. It replaces reason with panicky, overwrought delusion. Far too often, fear is more ferocious than whatever we fear.
To illustrate, look no further than responses to the news about Thomas Eric Duncan, who emigrated from Liberia and came down with Ebola in Texas.
As Duncan fought a quarantined battle for his life in a Dallas hospital, my wife’s sisters — both of whom live in Fort Worth, at least 27 miles and 40 minutes away — traveled on vacation in New England. One of them came down with a cold and visited a drugstore to purchase medicine. People in the pharmacy practically panicked because a woman “from Texas” with a cough entered their store.
Meanwhile, back in Dallas, a food-truck operator broke a contract to serve an after-church festival at Wilshire Baptist Church, where Duncan’s fiancée, Louise Troh, is a member. “Neither [Duncan], nor she, nor any member of that family attended anything at Wilshire after his arrival in the United States, and there has been no physical contact of any kind between anyone at Wilshire and any of the family since the outbreak,” Associate Pastor Mark Wingfield reported. No germs, no exposure. But still no service.
So, while people only contract Ebola by coming into contact with bodily fluids of a symptomatic victim, they succumb to fear at the mere notion of harm.
Fear holds the upper hand in society today.
Fear is “a default posture of human beings,” novelist/essayist/professor Marilynne Robinson told The New York Times Magazine. “Fear is so opportunistic that people can call on it under the slightest provocations . … Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”
You know she’s telling the truth.
Whether it’s politicians rounding up votes, advertisers peddling products or religious leaders corralling converts, fear works. If you frighten people, you can shape their thinking. If you shape their thinking, you can control their conduct. And, unfortunately, logic and reason — not to mention truth — have nothing to do with the outcome.
To be sure, suffering and evil exist. They are frightening. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is horrific. The crimes committed by ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria are atrocious. The specter of economic instability is troublesome. You and I can call roll for a battalion of terrors.
The world may or may not be more frightening than it’s been before. But we know more about it. On top of traditional TV, radio and print journalism, digital communication — the Internet, email and myriad social media — deliver every scary scenario almost as soon as it happens.
So, fear is comprehensible. But what’s not reasonable is why Christians are so susceptible to its tentacles.
Sure we live in the same world as everyone else. We breathe the same air, drive the same roads, keep our money in the same banks, see the same news, fly the same airlines, and on and on. The world’s milieu is ours.
But we do not stand on the same foundation. As children, we sang a song based on Jesus’ construction parable: “And the house on the rock stood firm.” If Jesus’ parable is true and our faith rests in him, then the foundation of our lives is secure, even in the midst of storms that cause others to quake with fear.
We are not delusional. We do not deny the calamity and evil that provokes fear, but we overcome fear. Nelson Mandela explained it eloquently: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
God gives us the power to overcome fear. In Christ, we know truths that lead us to triumph over fear:
• The catastrophe, cataclysm and evil that evoke fear do not define us. The substance of our lives, much less our souls, is not composed of circumstances. We are created in God’s image, defined by that divine stamp. Nothing defaces or diminishes it.
• Even in the worst of circumstances, we are not alone. As children, we learned God joined Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigo in the fiery furnace. Later, as we learned to think more abstractly but no less realistically, we found comfort in Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear ….” We embraced Romans 8: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 28, 38-39).
• Our response to the world’s worst terrors is the glory of God’s grace. How we live authenticates our faith. When we courageously face fear, we testify to God’s power and love. When we go about our lives — confidently, purposefully, yet humbly — we demonstrate “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).