By Starlette McNeill
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.” This seems to be the instant message received every day in our world. Yes, fear is a common experience but now it is a shared automatic response as bad things just keep happening. Whether we are waiting for a grand jury verdict or the latest video and victim from “Jihadi John,” fear has us captivated. We expect the feeling and in so doing, have normalized it.
Denounced by North Korea who also cyber-attacked the company, Sony profited from the fear of an attack on America’s freedom of speech. People, who before the threat were not planning to watch the movie, flocked to theater and computer screens to watch it in defiance. The controversial movie, The Interview, is the top- grossing online movie to date. Fear is profitable.
It’s a business with full-time employees. We call them terrorists. They have offices all over the world and the empire is growing, using violence and intimidation to affect the minds and movement of people civically, globally and socially. Terrorism is domestic and foreign, homegrown and imported. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2014, there were almost 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013. This is an increase of 44 percent from the previous year. Fear just keeps growing.
And fear is with us all of the time now. There are no lunch or bathroom breaks, thanks to our 24-hour news cycle, social media and 4G LTE connections. So, we move from one fear to the next.
In response to fear, we are told to leave our homes, to go about our daily activities and don’t forget to shop. No, don’t let fear prevent you from spending. Swipe that credit card and give fear a black eye.
We are also reminded of the military might of our country and the historical position of the United States; still, we have fears. We collect them, share them, pass them down and pass them out — one for you and for you and for you. It’s normal. It’s natural. The world and its habitants are dangerous.
We are afraid of drones and snowstorms, of flying an aircraft and traveling in one, of our Internet and Social Security, of immigrants and new neighbors because there is always something and someone to fear. We are even afraid of ourselves, not of who we are but who we are supposed to be, that we will not become what the Creator had in mind.
We live our lives afraid that we are making a mistake or that we were mistaken to believe that we could do or be this and that and that too.
There is so much to fear and be afraid of. I think I might start to keep a list to keep track of them all. In fact, there are so many people and places to fear that I do not have time to be afraid of the things that I am personally afraid of. I cannot fear it all lest I be rendered immobile, paralyzed by fear.
And to be clear, it’s a threat. Fear is the possibility of impending danger, of harm, injury or death. But it is also fear of living, moving and being. It is the fear of heights and depths, of water and lands never seen, of speaking before a crowd and being alone, of failure as well as success.
And to be fair, we do challenge our fears of living and dying. We skydive and bungee jump. We write the letter and hit the send button. We ask her out. We tell him, “No, thanks.” We walk down the aisle and say, “I do.” We apply for the job. We walk away from lucrative careers that don’t make us happy. And some of us like to be afraid, which is why we pay to watch fear-inducing movies.
But the apostle Paul talked about fear and more specifically, the spirit of fear (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7). He was not talking about the innate emotional response to the threat of danger. He was not talking about fear as a survival mechanism or that often related to phobias.
In his letter to his mentee, Timothy, Paul said it is that of timidity or cowardice that is not to be the “vital principle” or the “mental disposition” of a believer. He said that fear should not be the law that governs us, the standard for our existence. Fear should not be found in the company of our beliefs. It also should not characterize our thoughts, influence our temperament or determine our perspective.
Like oil and water, like Valentine’s Day and a scary movie, love and fear don’t go together. They just don’t mix. John agreed, writing, “There is no fear in love” (1 John 4.18).
Eugene Peterson translated the passage this way in The Message: “When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. … There is no room in love for fear. Well-informed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not fully formed in love.” Peterson reminds us that there is only room for one — fear or love. One must be evicted. They could never be roommates or relatives, not even distant cousins.
Love covers; fear exposes. Love heals; fear cripples. Love releases; fear binds. Love accepts; fear prevents.
God does not give us this kind of fear. It is also not something that we should hand to each other or pass down to our children. In fact, it is one of the things that we should never possess as images of Love. When asked, the Church should be able to say, “I’m sorry. We don’t carry that here. We don’t bring that here. We have no fear.”