Fear is a great motivator. Nothing gets folks moving like a good jolt to the adrenal system. Marketing gurus understand this very well. That’s why so much of what we are offered for consumption, from mouthwash to politics, is wrapped in fear.
And let’s be honest with each other–there is much to fear these days.
Since 9/11 the ongoing fear of another terrorist attack keeps us on edge all the time. And even if we manage enough poise to stop thinking about it for moment, our present gaggle of presidential candidates are always there ready to remind us that we are not safe–unless we elect the right one of them.
There are also other deadly threats out there offering us multiple opportunities to be afraid. A short list might include super bugs, poison toys from China, mad cow disease, toxic dog and cat food (also from China), gay marriage, immigrants taking over the country, universal health care, increased taxes and then China in general.
And again, even when we are able to steal away to our happy place for a few moments of relief, the 24/7 news industry is there constantly reminding us that we are not safe–so stay tuned for more.
It seems that even the planet has turned against us, creating the truly terrifying prospect that the environment which gives us life is about to take it back. Images of melting ice-caps, raging wild fires, unheard-of tornadoes in Brooklyn and London and a looming water shortage weave themselves together and keep us awake at night.
I find myself thinking about the rock song from the sixties with a line that goes, “It starts when you’re always afraid.”
The “it” in the song refers to the sorts of things that can happen when fear is our constant state of mind. For instance, fear makes it hard for us to trust one another and without trust community is very difficult to sustain. Where fear increases, tolerance decreases.
Fear tempts us to grant more authority to authorities, like those with advanced eavesdropping capabilities. Which, by the way, becomes something else for us to fear. In our desire to feel safe, we give away precious freedoms.
Fear acts on the primitive part of our brain which makes violence far more prevalent. There is nothing quite as a dangerous as a cornered animal. That is what fear does to us–it makes us feel cornered.
I am not suggesting by all this that these fears are not valid, many of them are. But from a religious point of view, living in fear is a demonstration of the absence of faith. I don’t mean faith as some magical formula that wraps us in a privileged protective bubble. I am referring to faith as the belief that our faithful involvement in the world can make the world better.
Faith creates courage that allows us to confront the scary things in life with the best of our hearts and minds. It takes courage “to overcome evil with good.” That’s why one of the most frequent commands in the Bible is “Fear not!”
The Apostle Paul wrote once that of the three greatest things–faith, hope and love–love is the greatest. I have no reason to disagree with that. But here’s the rub. Without faith the other two are not possible. It takes courage to love and it takes real courage to have hope.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.