“Fear not!”

(I haven’t written for a few weeks, partly because of starting my new job, and partly because the situation in northern Iraq was driving me to write in other venues…)

I did not grow up in a church, and so I am always a little curious what going to church is like for children.  I particularly appreciate this gem, from a puppet re-telling of the Christmas story in Luke 2:

  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Fear not!
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: What part of “fear not” didn’t you understand?
  • Shepherds: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
  • Angel: Never mind.  I bring you good news…

It always strikes me how fearful many Christians remain, even though Christ has already given us all that we need for godly lives.  To hear some Christians talk (or blog), they are afraid of Islam, atheism, homosexuality, church shrinkage, cultural de-Christianization, loss of constitutional rights, President Obama, censorship, contraception, courts, and the news media.  This is clearly a very heterogeneous bucket o’ fear.

And yet, Christ has promised to all who come to him an eternity of joy and peace, far apart from the worries of this world and the mess we have made of our lives.  Christ has promised not to abandon us even in this life, with all its pains and difficulties (some imposed upon us, others brought on ourselves), but to comfort us and strengthen us along the way.  Christ is alive and gives us life, both now and eternally, with him.  As Paul wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35).

Yet many Christians remain fearful; why is that?  The one thing Christ didn’t promise was that we would be comfortable.  Jesus explicitly said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33), and foretold the persecution his followers would face (John 16:2).  Paul, immediately after his rhetorical questions cited above, quoted a psalm of persecution with respect to his own situation: “Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered'” (Romans 8:36).  In another letter, Paul is even more explicit: “And indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).  

Psychologists often recommend that we confront fears by asking, “How bad can it be?”  The problem with this approach, for many Christians, is that we don’t like the answer.  This life can really suck.  Jeremiah knew first-hand that serving the Lord could be painful, leading to his being rejected, imprisoned, and tortured.  Christians have suffered execution, torture, rape, watching all of these things happen to people they love, and this is all apart from the natural evils of sickness and mental illness.  Don’t hear me minimizing the sufferings of this life with pious platitudes about the next!  There are things that people experience in this life, and a few things I have experienced in this life, which make me shudder.

What is our response to these fears?  Too often, we try to overcome them by force.  Paul himself wrote, immediately following his quotation of the psalm in his letter to the Romans, “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer,” and without waiting to read the rest of his sentence we are tempted to set out for battle, to wage war against whatever we think will imperil our comfort and our “rights” (whatever we think those to be) as Christians.  We try to gain the whole world, at peril of forfeiting our soul.  Of course this fails, at least the part about gaining the whole world by conquest, because it is not the Lord’s way; he came on a donkey, and has reserved the war horse and the battle charge for the last day.  But when it fails, then rather than repent Christians often take refuge in simple negation: “That didn’t happen!”  Of course such an awful thing couldn’t happen to a faithful Christian; God wouldn’t allow it!  (What would Jeremiah say…)  Or, when the weight of pain becomes so overwhelming that we cannot simply pretend it isn’t there, even if only on a Sunday morning, then many of us take refuge in bitterness toward God for betraying us, for letting us down.

Paul didn’t stop with conquest.  What he wrote was, “In all these [persecutions] we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).  In this, he merely echoed the words of Jesus himself: “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  What did that look like?  Jesus visibly reigning in a world government based in a major city, such as New York or London?  Not so much…  No, instead Jesus overcame the world by dying, nailed to a wooden pole, after being flogged, with sharp spiky thorns pressed into his scalp, and set out in the sun for the world to see, and mock.  What kind of conquest is that?  It is victory over shame and death itself, and by that victory he made a spiritual path out of hell.  Now, if anyone kills us, (it will still hurt but) it ends our suffering and propels us into paradise, just a little sooner than we expected.

So Christians need not be afraid.  We should be prepared: this life often hurts, and sometimes more than we imagined possible.  Some people will find themselves in corners of hell planted on earth that make them so miserable they will long for death.  This world is more busted than most of us admit (and we are more to blame for that bustedness than any of us like to admit).  Yet we have a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He never said he would make it all okay, or that he would make us comfortable.  He said, “I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).  He said, “Come to me, all who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  In him we hope, and in him we can trust.  Let us be faithful to him.

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2 comments

  1. I have been seeing the same and have even participated in the fear, and the only place where I need to apply fear is towards my own salvation (Phil.2:12), not the world’s, for gaining the world at the cost of my soul is foolish(Mark8:36). Lord Jesus Christ, son of God have mercy me a sinner.

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