Every year, around Halloween, you can expect a certain amount of chatter around the subject of fear. There is the fear that the dark forces are using this holiday to get to our children. The warnings promote a fear that we will be duped or desensitized into believing that the Halloween is harmless. There is also the nagging fear that someone we know will show up at the office party as a slutty cat or slutty nurse (let’s face it, 70% of all costumes venture down that path). Yet ANOTHER reason, to avoid it all together! Right? Who’s with me?
Next in line is Easter where we fear that Easter Eggs have some kind of symbolism that is extremely dangerous. Then we worry about commercialism at Christmas, followed by regret and dread for the coming year. What I worry about most at Halloween is that I won’t be able to stop eating the leftover candy and go into some kind of diabetic episode.
Fear is often called “the great motivator,” but often it motivates us in the wrong direction. We may be proactive and responsive; but it is possible to be productive and also ineffective. We may be accomplishing all the wrong things.
Fear causes us to control
Whether or not we admit it, fear is a big part of religion. When we fear the unknown, we create systems and rules to alleviate those concerns. Jesus didn’t start a religion – He often worked to abolish religion with it’s fears and rule-making systems. An atheist, Bertrand Russell, stated in his 1927 lecture, Why I am not a Christian:
“Religion is based primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing – fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.”
We often say God is in control. While that is true in the sense of things like gravity and natural laws and the fact that I take breaths without being consciously concerned with it, but God doesn’t physically or mentally control my actions. He doesn’t force me or scare me or even guilt me into doing his will. He draws me and invites me to do what is right for two reasons: because He loves me and he is not afraid.
Fear causes us to avoid
Recently, I heard an actor state “Your wildest dreams are on the other side of your fear.” In general, I find that to be true. Everything that is worth doing involves some vulnerability, some moderate risk and a fair amount of courage. Dr. Brené Brown states,
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change. It’s also the birthplace of joy, faith and connection.”
The things we really desire in life like belonging and fulfillment are being hijacked by our fear. The New Testament church faced unbelievable challenges every day. They literally faced death to believe what they had recently discovered. We don’t connect and find belonging when we are afraid we might be influenced. The times in history where the church has been effective is not when they withdrew into a corner. The church’s most powerful times has been when it had the courage to stand alone and be a witness.
Fear causes us to hurt others
John tells us that love and fear are incompatible. That leads some to conclude that religion that is based in fear is often a parent to cruelty. We have a fight, flight or freeze response hard-wired into our brains. When fear is allowed to navigate, we will either run away or freeze up or come out swinging. Even if we never thrown a punch, most of us know how to intimidate, criticize or humiliate those that would dare to make us feel threatened.
Too often, our lives are controlled by the latest thing we heard. That news item or gossip or blog post becomes a fear that demands control, avoidance or confrontation. But what if our guiding motivation was love? And as we know, perfect love casts out fear. When our motivation is right and we are courageous, we realize God is bigger than our fear. My hope is that our voice and our lives become less of a response to the world and even less of a response to other Christians and more of a witness to them.