So, where is your anxiety level these days, level orange? Our culture of fear has provided lots of munchies to feed our fear monsters: terrorism, angry and unstable people (could be a neighbor who seems normal but keeps to himself) committing acts of violence, eratic North Korea, Russian involvement in the current administration, the confusion of our political system, the future of health care, the debt-ridden-no-budget economy of Illinois, West Nile virus, Ebola, SARS… do you remember these last ones?
The world-wide fear over SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which originated in China in 2002-3 is a fascinating study of how an irrational fear properly fed, grows out of proportion to the danger of the crisis. SARS had infected over 5,000 people worldwide and killed over 300, which was a tragedy. However, at the same time in the U.S. alone 700,000 people died from heart disease and 550,000 from cancer. In 2012, the West Nile virus infected 4100 in the U.S. and killed 286, again a tragedy. However, during the same period 71,000 people died of diabetes and 62,000 of pneumonia.
Mysterious diseases, political intrigue, acts of violence and terrorism make big stories and media hype tends to report the reality disproportionately. If you still watch the evening news on tv, you almost need a sedative afterwards. Such news feeds our fears and diverts our attention from dealing with present issues and concerns, as well as stepping out of our bubble and taking risks for the sake of the gospel.
In “Break Open the Sky” Stephan Bauman (former president of World Relief) says, Fear is popular today because it’s profitable. Producers of media in all its forms have become merchants of fear, stoking fires of controversy, threat, or anger in search of larger audiences. Politicians, both conservative and progressive, traffic in fear to secure support and shore up votes. Corporations employ fear to make us buy more of their products. Friends warn us of the latest health scare, food allergy, or crime epidemic. Even religion, as an enterprise, makes use of fear.
We Americans are experts at trying to control our own lives. We are self-sufficient and we tend to provide for ourselves quite well, thank you! We reduce our risks to the minimum, fix all our own problems, and anticipate all eventualities- well, at least we try. When something comes along like a new strain of flu bug for which (we are told) no antedote yet exist, we feel helpless, frustrated, and out of control — a feeling that Americans hate. We also start to connect our present fear to all the rest in our anxiety-arsenal and overwhelm ourselves with worry and precaution and a bit of paranoia –because it might be terrorist related.
Earlier Christians (and many in the third world today*) lived in unsafe and hostile societies which were vulnerable to constant war, natural disasters without warning, and real incurable diseases. They had little control over their lives and had little sense of a bright earthly future. However, they did have faith in a God who never forgets the cross and would never forget them. Their antidote to fear was not an inoculation but trust in a sovereign and loving God who has all things under control.
When the prophet Habakkuk looked at his uncertain future he was overcome with fear. However, he did not allow this fear to paralyze him and he chose to do two things: focus on the character of God who never changes (1:12); listen to God’s counsel to quell his fear. “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The antidote for fear is not courage but faith.
So if we really want to listen to a Sovereign God who never changes then we must begin by hearing the consistent message spoken to the people under the old covenant and to those of us under the new… DO NOT BE AFRAID!
I won’t list all these passages but will mention one found in Luke 12:32 where Jesus told his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” I wish I had a visual of Jesus speaking to this insigificant little band of wide-eyed men who were ready to be sent out into a violent world to spread the gospel, with little provisions and seemingly little hope of success. And yet Jesus said My little flock- those who are my special ones under my care whom I love- FEAR NOT! The reason not to fear is becuase your Father is absolutely delighted to give you a future, the very Kingdom that you are being sent out to share with others will be your eternal inheritance. And since he will bestow upon you a future glory that you cannot imagine, you do not need to worry that He will provide everything you need in this life as you risk it for His Kingdom.
“He who did not spare his own Son, how will he not also along with Him give us all things.” There is nothing that will come to you that does not first pass through the hand of your heavenly Father and is designed to make you more like Jesus. FEAR NOT…
*In an essay “The Epidemic of Worry,” David Brooks wrote, According to the World Health Organization, 18.2% of Americans report chronic anxiety while only 3.3% of Nigerians,