Bonhoeffer described it as “this fog spreading over everything, this sense that there is no way out.” He was speaking of fear, the chill paralysis visibly stretching its tentacles through the churches of Germany as the Nazi menace continued to build. Alas, it seems that fog has come creeping in again, but this time it’s global. Perhaps the forces of terror seem so much larger now.
Or maybe the universe feels small. Like the secluded tribes of the Amazon who once shrunk the heads of their fallen enemies in order to harness their spirits, we boiled our world down to an amusement park. Cut off from the vast reaches of Eternity and disconnected from the certainties of undying truth and unfailing love, we huddle like orphans in the dwindling wilderness of Self. When my personal needs and fleeting desires define the size of my world, every hint of adversity threatens looming disaster.
Not so long ago, panic attacks were found only in Stephen King novels and clinical journals. Today it sometimes feels that everyone you know has experienced that form of paralysis: the pounding heart, the stampeding fears, the jolt of awakening suddenly at 5:00 AM and staring instantly into the yellow eyes of dread and despair. Where did we learn this hopelessness?
The terrorists are plotting to kill us. The Zika-bearing mosquitoes are drifting in our direction. Shadowy immigrants are gathering along the borders, waiting to invade and overwhelm. The economy is faltering and suffocating. The leaders of the nation- any nation, every nation– are out of touch and out of control. Nothing can save us now: from the culture rot or the cancer threat or the imminent loss of career. Not to mention growing old and unattractive!
When Jesus implored, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” he was writing our names in the sand. Surrounded by people who could instantly forfeit everything in the event of leprosy or at the sighting of a foreign army massing just across the river, Jesus could also empathize with the temptations of people like you and me still twenty centuries away. The Good News means more than just not going to Hell: it means not living daily in emotional turmoil despite the constant rumblings of Evil.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
We cannot wish our fears away: we must give them away. We run to the Savior and offer them up to him. And then we practice authentic faith: worshiping God fearlessly, loving others tirelessly, refusing to cower on the sofa, but deliberately remaining engaged with a universe of truth, love and light that makes my grandest earthly fantasies seem small and tawdry. Faith opens my eyes to the sprawling, magnificent universe outside my Self.
Denying myself, lifting my cross, and going after Jesus is the antidote for fear. Difficult outcomes seem far less tragic when they all provide me with either a mirror for reflecting the glory of Christ, or a pathway into His Presence. But it’s an art, not a science. We practice it daily in word and deed. We confess our fears and rest in the love of Christ.
Meditate on this: There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.
And lift up the Cross!