|LMOST TWO WEEKS AFTER JANUARY’S DEVASTATING EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI, I was on a flight bound for Chicago. After about an hour without incident, we encountered unexpected turbulence. As we passed through several severe air pockets, I clung tightly to my seat and prayed quietly while some passengers gasped and screamed. One teenager kept screaming “O-M-G,” which I later learned is text-speak for “O my Gosh.”
As soon as we landed, one of the persons who had been most vocal and apparently agitated, got on her cell phone to describe, in loud, shockingly profane language, how terrible the flight was.
This incident caused me to reflect on the current behavior of Americans. It appears as if once confident, self-assured, do-it-yourself Americans are unraveling at the seams. All the tornado, tsunami, and terrorist warnings, a shrinking global economy, and increasing local unemployment have cast a cloud of apprehension and fear “over the land of the free and home of the brave.” The country’s Homeland Security Operations Center seems to be taking a greater emotional toll than previously thought.
But how do God’s people handle these afflictions and adversities? Are we, like our unbelieving neighbors who are numb with fear, the greatest enemy of faith?
Legitimate fear is understandable and allowable, but chronic fear is a corrosive and destructive force. It takes away our incentive, kills our sense of adventure, saps our creativity, and makes us hostages of our own imagination so that we “play it safe and take no chances.” This fear makes us critical when we should be compassionate, hateful when we ought to be loving, and complainers when we should be compliant.
There’s always something to be afraid of: water polluted by carcinogenic chemicals, the possibility of the air clouded with nuclear dust, global warming, or being blown away by some suicide bomber. There’s diabetes, the silent killer; cancer that randomly selects its victims; drug abuse insidiously invading our families; and street crimes and violence lurking around every corner. Something tragic or traumatic is always lurking in the background to steal our courage and take our breath away.
Fear, in one form or another, at some time or other, is so prominent and pervasive among us that some people act selfishly and childishly, as did the woman who threw a fit after we landed safely in Chicago. It causes others to jump out of their skins at a sudden sound such as a car backfiring, to hide in their closets, crawl under their beds, pull the blanket over their heads, or sleep with the light glaring and the television blaring.
Something else must be the answer; and, thank God, something else is. Knowing that His beloved children wouldn’t be immune to the psychological influences and emotional impact of this thing called fear, especially if we are frontline workers in disaster rescue and recovery, where tremendous human life is lost, such as in Haiti, God promised and provided a Comforter (John 14:16). He did this from the foundation of the world and followed it up in Scripture, in which the phrase “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid,” appears 365 times, one for every day, with the assurance that He is always with us (Matt. 28:20).
Jesus also said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).* And the apostle John wrote: “Perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). Faith, the father of hope and mother of things not seen, is based on trust in God who calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The amazing thing is that faith is free and more available than its costly opponent, yet our human family experiences more fear than faith.
Those called by God’s name cannot continue to wallow in fear because, in the words of the psalmist: “The Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation; whom shall [we] fear? The Lord is the stronghold of [our lives]; of whom shall [we] be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1).
*Bible texts in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.