We read in Luke 1:29 that when Mary received the news about the impending birth she was “perplexed,” or “troubled.” Dare we say that Mary was just a little fearful? And when Joseph is brought in on the plan he was told, “Do not be afraid.” It sounds so simple, but it is hard, isn’t it? Fear can catch and paralyze us; or it can cause us to act rashly. Fear can sometimes save your life, but it can just as often enslave it.
Fear is one of the great challenges for us in our culture, in no small part because it can be used so effectively within our media. As you watch TV, listen to the radio, read the paper, or browse the web, pay attention to the way fear might be used to influence decision-making. Will you have enough money for retirement? Do you really know what is in the food you eat? Will your children have a future? The alarm is raised. Be afraid! … and here is how we suggest you immediately act. Sadly, we in the Church are by no means immune to this, especially in this time of such a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Fear can drive us into terrible places. But as one thoughtful commentator on the subject, Brad Jersak, has noted, behind every fear lurks a lie. The great lie is that we are in this alone.
In what is surely the most famous of all the Psalms, Psalm 23, the writer declares that even in the valley of the shadow of death, they will “fear no evil.” Why? They affirm this because they believe that “you are with me.” In other words, the Psalmist can face whatever the day brings because they trust that God is accompanying them and they will not be abandoned. God is with us.
Is God scary? It does say, after all, in the previous Psalm, Psalm 22:23, “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” But that word translated as fear has much more to do with awe and reverence than terror. To glimpse God will cause us to fear in much the same way that we catch our breath when we stare down at the Grand Canyon beneath our feet … or at our firstborn in our arms. And when the Almighty invites you into the future that God has in mind for you, there are few of us who do not have as a first response, “Are you sure you don’t have the wrong person?” God is known to think big—very big—and has a propensity for choosing the most unlikely agents of change. After all, who would possibly expect a very young woman in a backwater of the Roman Empire to be a key player in the redemption of humankind? The very thought unsettles, creates fear, even.
On the other hand, we’re with God. Can there be a safer future?
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