When Fear Takes Hold

When Fear Takes Hold

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Don’t be afraid.

The words came as a still, small voice in my head as I reeled from the Paris attacks.  Don’t be afraid.  I recognized these words, of course I did.  They appear in the Bible a gazillion times.  (365, actually, but not always in context.)  They did nothing for me.  The fear was weighing me down like plate mail armor and the biblical command ricocheted off without making the smallest dent.

I spent two days like this, wrestling with the terror and looking for comfort.  While others were praying for Paris, I sat mute in the horror.  I was sad, angry and afraid but the desperation wasn’t turning me toward God.  It was turning me inward, making me look for a way to shut out the dangers.  I honestly spent some time wondering if it was possible to just check out of this world altogether.  Could we buy a bit of land in some undiscovered corner of the world where no one could find us?  Could we stay where we are but never leave our home?  Was there any hope, when violence lurks in schools and movie theaters, on street corners and concert halls?  “Don’t be afraid,” seemed a mockery, a PollyAnna optimism that has no place in the aftermath of tragedy.  

I never found any comfort.  There are no words of reassurance for this situation, no promises that all will be well, that everything is under control.  What I found instead was the Gospel.  Not the cheap-grace “look at the bright side” version but the real, true, “What are you willing to sacrifice for another” version.  Oddly enough, It came to me via Twitter. It came as people rose up against the news that politicians were calling for a “pause” to accepting Syrian refugees.  (A “pause,” being a lovely, safe way of saying, “We’re going to let them die while we debate this.”)  

“I would rather die at the hands of a terrorist than be the kind of human who turns away from suffering,” someone tweeted.  I don’t know this person, I don’t even know why I saw this tweet but I do know that it hit me with all the force of an altar call at an 18th century revival meeting.  This is the Gospel.

Somewhere along the way, I had confused “don’t be afraid,” with “there’s nothing to fear.”  Those are two different things and only one of them is the way of Christ.  

Look, politicians will be trying to provide comfort.  They are looking to keep us safe.  They will be talking about risks, vetting processes and financial resources.  They do this because they, too, are scared and also because they want to look like they have the easy answer for a complicated problem.  But at the end of the day, we simply cannot let these discussions sidetrack us.  

The way of Christ was never, ever a way of safety.  

Believe me, that comes as hard news to me as I sit in my cozy house, typing away on my laptop as evening settles in.  So you all are going to have to help me out here.  We’re going to have to press forward together, not because we think we’re safe but because we believe that the way of love is worth the sacrifice.

The one bright spot I see in this whole mess is that we have companions on the journey.  I have been proud of Christianity, proud of the larger Church itself, in its response to the refugee crisis and the concerns of terrorism.  I have seen you all posting on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram demanding that refugees continue to be accepted.  I watched the statements from leaders across denominations roll in on Monday and I cried tears of pride and hope.  While the voice of fear is still clamoring, I’m hearing the voice of Christians raising above the din demand that we let compassion win out over fear.   

So let’s keep going.  Let’s walk the walk as well as we’ve talked the talk.  Let’s not let our passion get cold with the news cycle, or our comfortable commitments get in the way of real love.  Instead, let’s keep lobbying our government leaders, looking for ways to volunteer  and flooding relief agencies with donations.  Let’s drop the plate mail of fear and go into the world vulnerable and unprotected, clothed only in the clothes of Christ.  Let’s remember that while it is human to long for safety and comfort, it is Christ-like to long for peace and sacrifice.


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