A four letter word, if ever I heard one.
I’ve read a lot about fear lately. There is good reason to fear. Hurricanes have done immeasurable damage to the southern coast, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Lone gunmen are killing people in numbers like never before. A new deadly illness seems to rise to the surface every few years. And it doesn’t help that there are terrorist organizations that want to kill us just because we are us.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He meant that fear, if dwelled upon, can be destructive in itself. Take the fear of darkness. We don’t fear ‘darkness’ as much as we fear what might be lurking in the shadows. Go into a dark room that your logical mind says has been locked and nothing could be hiding, and your illogical mind starts to imagine demons, poltergeists, burglars that can pick locks, and snakes and scorpions that can find cracks in the walls. But what put them there? Our own imagination. We’ve wasted energy. We’ve ruined our feeling of security. And we’ve slid from the path of trusting in God. We’ve done so, because our own imagination has betrayed us. What FDR was saying is that we have enough to be concerned about to not add to it with imagined fears.
When my wife and I arrived in Germany in 1977 (the day after Elvis died), a German industrialist had just been abducted by the Red Army Faction (RAF, or the Baader-Meinhof Gang). The deal was that two key members of the RAF were on trial in Karlsruhe, where we would live for three years. Karlsruhe was the home of the Supreme Court of Germany at the time. Soon after we moved there, the people on trial were given poison to die as martyrs. American servicemen and their families were targets of reprisals. People were killed at rest stops along the autobahn. We were warned not to use the laundry rooms (in the basements of the high-rise apartments) at night. Our safety could not be guaranteed. My wife became a witness to suspicious activity in our stairwell which led to key information in the eventual destruction of the RAF, as it was constituted at the time. We were only a few feet from death.
With this terrorist organization literally surrounding us, how did that affect our lives? It didn’t. We lived our lives the way we would if they weren’t operating around us. C. S. Lewis spoke out about the Cold War fear of nuclear destruction. He said that we shouldn’t fear the Bomb. A tiny microbe could kill us. We should work and play and live. We shouldn’t cower.
My wife was bolder than that, however. She was at least six months pregnant with our younger son. She saw the terrorist come into our building at about 3:00am. We had previously talked to the local CID and we guessed these were terrorists. We lived on the fourth floor. She left the security of the apartment and got as far as the first floor apartments (wanting a closer look in case there was a lineup) when it dawned on her that this terrorist may look young and innocent, but he might be armed. She ran as fast as her pregnant body would allow back upstairs. Luckily, the terrorist was in the basement at the time. We’ll never know if he heard the footsteps and was waiting on her to turn the next corner in the stairwell.
In the Bible, God’s people were afraid. They were afraid, so they begged Samuel for a king in 1 Samuel 8. In the times of Jeremiah, they were afraid when Babylon had taken most into exile and their governor was murdered. They wanted to go to Egypt. Jeremiah’s reply in Jeremiah 42:9-12 was the following:
He said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’
But what did the people do? They feared Babylon and ran to Egypt for security. Yet God had told them that if they did so “You will die by the sword, famine and plague in the place where you want to go to settle.” (Jeremiah 42:22)
Fear, whether from real causes or imagined causes, leads to anxiety. Experts will say that increased anxiety can be found in direct correlation with increased depression. This means that as anxiety increases, depression increases. Why are we depressed? We have lost a little more control of our situation or we have imagined that we have lost control.
For each fear, we can perform a self-examination. We can address the fear. Is it based on reality or something that we have imagined? Can we eliminate some of the threat? Can we concentrate on eliminating the fear as if it were of little concern? I have performed such exercises. When I took tests to show my anxiety and depression levels, I often found that as my anxiety was less, I discovered I had less grumpiness and depression also. Logically looking our fears in the face can help us to feel less anxious. Being less anxious lowers our depression.
But we still need to address the elephant in the room. Possibly the greatest epidemic in the world today is depression. Yet, the biggest problem is that we have forgotten God.
Instead of turning to a doctor for ‘happy pills’, people with depression today should turn to the Great Physician instead. Some may still need medication, but everyone needs God. They should pray to turn the control of their life over to Him. They should rest in faith in the words of our Almighty God that He will never leave us or forsake us. With that promise, we should have no fear of losing control. Someone wiser and more powerful is in control.
Even for those people who have legitimate need for drugs that correct an internal imbalance to calm their anxiety, the drugs will not be totally effective unless God is in their lives.
Jesus cured the sick and raised the dead. Whenever we fear, we should turn to Him.