"Confusion, indecision, fear: these are my weapons."
"Where there is fear, there is no religion."
"Perfect love casts out fear."
--Saint John, remembering Jesus
What do you fear? Is it the Year 2000 computer bug? The
government? That man down the street who lives alone and seems too
interested in your children? Your boss? Your lover? Crowds? Solitude?
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The list is endless; in fact, the question itself is frightening
because it threatens to expose our deepest secrets. Fear knows no
boundaries. It operates individually and collectively. For the Baby
Boomers' depression-era parents, economic devastation was the constant
fear that never let go of their lives. For the Boomers themselves, it
was nuclear weapons. Each generation, like each individual, has its
unique fears. Red Skelton, arguably one of the greatest entertainers
Hollywood ever produced, feared that he was a fraud and would be
exposed. I suspect many other personalities share that fear (some
deservedly so). In the end, we fear even the exposure of our fears --
because they provide a lever that others can use to manipulate and
control us. Few things are more private than fear.
Nor more powerful. Fear, held in check by greed, is what moves the
world's financial markets. It is what the world's great political
despots have used -- by their own admission -- to ruin a people and
their nation. It is used to manipulate elections; when it looked certain
that LBJ would lose the presidential election to Barry Goldwater,
Johnson ran a shameless, fear-mongering television commercial implying
that voting for Goldwater would result in nuclear war. LBJ won and left
us the legacy of Vietnam. We feared the wrong thing.
It's popular this time of year, and perhaps even more so with the
impending new millennium, to make a list of resolutions that we hope
will improve our lives. Perhaps it would be more revealing if we made a
list of our fears? William Faulkner in describing the age that ushered
in the Boomers, said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, "Our tragedy
today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now
that we can even bear it. ... The basest of all things is to be afraid."
Some of us fear so many things that we scarcely have space for ourselves
amongst our cluttered fears. Perhaps juggling all those fears helps us
to forget that in the end we are going to die? At that point, none of
the fears we've mentioned are going to mean anything to us. The only
fear that will matter then is the one we neglected now.
Humanity's handbook, the Bible, talks a lot about fear in describing
man's relationship to the Creator God who inhabits its pages. The few
people who actually saw God, a handful of Old Testament prophets, never
disputed that description. They understood at once how far short of
God's standards they had fallen, and they feared for their lives at
being exposed to His presence. Everything else -- their children, their
marital problems, the fact that the king was debating upping the price
on their heads -- none of it mattered, because the fear of God
overshadowed it to such an extent that it became insignificant.
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And yet here is a great contradiction: the one man whom the Bible
records as knowing God most intimately is never described as being
afraid. Perhaps there is a lesson for us in that? Fear at times
surrounded him, as when he raised Lazarus from the dead. Yet Jesus only
mentioned fear twice. The first was in emphasizing the eternal nature of
existence: "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who
after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say to you,
Fear him" (Luke 12:5). Jesus' other mention of fear concerned the time
just prior to His return to the earth: "Men's hearts failing them for
fear, and for expectation of those things which are coming on the earth:
for the powers of heaven shall be shaken" (Luke 21:26).
But of Jesus, the apostle John, who knew Him best, wrote, "There is
no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear ..." (1 John 4:18).
And Paul, the legalistic rabbi was able to write, "For ye have not
received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the
Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15). Like
it or not, we all are going to end up having a relationship with God in
the new millennium. And for the moment, He seems to be leaving the
character of that relationship up to us.