n 1991 two German mountaineers discovered an ages-old, well-preserved corpse in a glacier of the Tyrolean Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. The tabloids, of course, went ballistic.
But for ten years more serious theories appeared in scientific journals as to the cause of death for “the Iceman.” Generally it was assumed that he died from freezer burn or something similar, but thanks to a technique called computerized tomography, a kind of multi-dimensional x-ray, scientists in 2001 identified a flint arrowhead, less than an inch long, lodged in the Iceman’s left shoulder.
Evidence apparently suggests that the wound was not self-inflicted. Presumably people of the time learned early on that you don’t discharge an arrow indoors, where it could bounce off a cave wall and come right back at you or a loved one. This would be a kind of Cro-Magnon version of “Don’t run with scissors.”
The arrow’s path created a small entry wound in the skin of his left chest, tore through nerves and blood vessels, paralyzed the left arm, and shattered the shoulder blade. In what appears to have been a painful death, the victim probably lived only a few hours after he was shot.
The Iceman must have lived in a fearful time and place. Full-length feature articles in such publications as National Geographic and recreations in TV specials described a very bleak and harrowing everyday world in which he lived and moved.
But judging from human nature, it probably wasn’t any more dangerous than our own times. The same daily newspapers that reported the Iceman’s cause of death also described a suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 16, a train ambush in Angola in which 100 died, a 15-year-old girl and two teachers who had acid thrown in their faces in India, and so on. And then, of course, about the same time there was September 11.
It must be recognized that for most of Earth’s peoples, living in anxiety is nothing new. Starvation and disease, poverty and crime, oppression and war have loomed as an everyday menace to humanity throughout history. But today, even the wealthy developed countries are living under a persistent form of threat level. In the United States, this has been categorized in the Homeland Security Department’s color-coded threat-level system. Wishing to reserve the risk level of “severe” (red) or “high” (orange) for only unusual conditions, the situation has settled into an everyday alert of “elevated” (yellow).
And then there are also concerns over such threats as virus pandemics, identity theft, global warming, and the recession. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone is able to sleep at night. Many have slipped into a bunker mentality, seeking in every possible way to retreat from exposure to the threats and risks that seem inherent in a hostile world.
Yet, interestingly, it’s becoming more and more evident that what the public fears and what kills them are not necessarily the same. Christian author Scott Bader-Saye makes this point in his stimulating book Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear:
“According to the [U.S.] Center[s] for Disease Control, the top three causes of death in the United States in 2002 were, in order, heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Yet these are not what we are afraid of, at least not in the same way we are afraid of terrorism, pedophiles, road rage, school shootings, plane wrecks, risky strangers, monster moms, killer bees, serial killers, new addictions (including shopping addiction and Internet addiction syndrome), and a host of new medical and psychological conditions (such as mad cow disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and super-viruses).1
And, as if the actual threats were not formidable enough, our culture often chooses in its own self-interests to exploit the natural anxieties that all feel under any kind of duress. “One reason why we fear so much,” writes Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, “is because life is dominated by competing groups of fear entrepreneurs who promote their cause, stake their claims, or sell their products through fear. Politicians, the media, businesses, environmental organizations, public health officials and advocacy groups are continually warning us about something new to fear.” 2
From TV and the Internet, tabloids and advertising:
“Toxins in Your drinking water?”
“Ten Ways You Can Protect Yourself From Credit Card Theft.”
“Are Your Children Safe From Predators?”
“What You Can Do to Be Ready for a Biochemical Attack.”
“Cybersecurity Begins at Home and in the Office.”
Could it be that the list of “fear entrepreneurs” might also include some Christians who have resorted to “putting the fear of God” in people’s minds in an effort to save them—or to protect self-interests? Exploiting the fears of others as a tactic to represent a religious viewpoint—any viewpoint—is terrorism.
From a myriad of sources, the barrage of fearful topics in the everyday media has produced a heightened sensitivity to the dangers in the world. But Scripture reassures us, over and over, that we need not face life on this earth in a constant state of worry.
Like the psalmist, we can live fully in our everyday, “Code Yellow” world with courage and hope: “You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day” (Ps. 91:5). 3
Living the abundant Christian life, of course, doesn’t mean that every possible source of fear will be removed. The psalmist clearly recognized this: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (23:4).
Care should be taken to maintain a measured, reasonable response to authentic risk. Anything less would be presumption.
But the abundant, loving Christian life is not controlled by anxiety. “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
The computerized tomography with which researchers examined the Iceman’s remains may have shed some intriguing light on the world he lived in and the physical causes of his death. But it can tell us nothing of his faith.
And faith is a key to withstanding the fears that we face every day. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews recounts the historic story of the infant Moses’ parents, who hid him for three months and who “by faith . . . were not afraid of the king’s command” (Heb. 11:23).
And Jesus drew a direct connection between anxiety and lack of faith. “ ‘Why are you so fearful?’ ” He asked the disciples during the storm. “ ‘How is it that you have no faith?’ ” (Mark 4:40).
“The chief enemy of peace,” writes William Barclay, “is worry, worry for ourselves, worry about the unknown future, worry about those we love. But Jesus speaks to us of a Father whose hand will never cause his child a needless tear and of a love beyond which neither we nor those we love can ever drift. In the storm of anxiety he brings us the peace of the love of God.”4
1Scott Bader-Saye, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007), p. 15.
3 All scriptural references in this article derive from the New King James Version of the Bible.
4 William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, The Daily Bible Study Series (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1975), pp. 116, 117.
Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the General Conference Department of Sabbath School and Personal Ministries.