“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid. That line seems to get said a lot throughout the Scriptures. Often, this happens when someone experiences an encounter with God or one of God’s Angels. Something about those encounters are apparently quite nerve wracking. Maybe God is like that creeper who always sneaks up behind you and nearly gives you a heart attack when all they are doing is ‘saying hi’.
It actually seems like fear tends to dominate our culture. As an Enneagram Type 6, I am quite familiar with fear. I don’t always recognize it, but I often feel it. In our society, fear seems to be a primary motivator for so much of what we do. Even companies have, for years, used fear to sell their product. If I am convinced that my neighbors cannot be trusted, I am far more likely to fork out the cash for a high end security system.
This obsession with fear seems to have found its way into the fiber of many people’s religious beliefs. Having been a part of the Christian faith for nearly 13 years, I have certainly seen it, and felt it, first hand. In many ways, this fear causes Christianity to take on the qualities of a tyrannical meritocracy more than an institution of Faith, Hope and Love. While the Good News is said to be a free gift, we have still found ways to create spiritual have’s and have not’s. The former having earned something greater than the latter.
We often try to justify this fear based pursuit of God by saying that it is exactly what God calls for. After all, the Scriptures do say that the Fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom. But this theory begins to fall apart when you realize that our fear often drives us to use our doctrine and theology in an effort to manipulate God. If I, out of a genuine fear of God, live a life of piety then I am obviously in better standing with God than (Insert your demonized group/person of choice here). God has no choice but to accept me! I earned it! It’s at this point that the Prodigal Son returns and we get pissed that God is just as accepting of him. After all, he didn’t earn it. Manipulation. Unfortunately for us, this is only our delusion. God isn’t buying it.
It’s as if our fear keeps us on the banks of the mighty River. Unsure of where it leads and what might happen to us if we jump in, we try to justify our fear by “studying” the currents and “understanding” the River better than anyone else. But, when God says “Do Not Be Afraid”, I wonder if He’s exposing our fear. Maybe God is inviting us to fall so deeply in love with Him that we just jump in and experience the fullness of the River regardless of where it takes us or how much it might hurt. This, of course, requires a total giving up of control. Not exactly our strong suit.
I think that what drives our fear is often a need to “understand” what is going on. When I meet a homeless person, my first thought is often “I wonder what he/she did to end up here.” I want to reassure myself that if I follow the right rules I will avoid, with certainty, this person’s rough fate. If they caused their own misery, then I know I can avoid mine. Of course, good things often happen to folks we deem “undeserving”. And the recent death of a local High School girl at the hands of a classmate if proof that the opposite is also true. This world is so scary that we often try to overcompensate for it by controlling our idea of God. The more we think we “understand” God, the safer we make ourselves feel.
This is the point where God would say, Do not be afraid. The Good News is not that I will make sure nothing bad happens to you. The Good news is that I am with you through it all. I am not a distant god. Do Not Be Afraid. Not because there is nothing to be afraid of, but because fear will always keep you from the truest and most profound encounters with me.