The Problem With Fear

1 John 4:18 Perfect love casts out fear. As long as we are fearful, we are not loving perfectly.

With people’s heads getting sawed off with knives, it is easy to become fearful and/or angry. That is what the terrorists want. I’ve watched the news reports calling for war. Now, on this 13th anniversary of 9/11, the President vows to “destroy” the militants known as ISIS. Seems like we have been here before. Trying to bomb our way to peace seems misguided without a longer-range plan or asking ourselves, “How did we get here in the first place?”

Following the collective “we,” the masses, the majority, frequently get us into trouble. As Brian Zahnd recently wrote in his book, A Farewell to Mars, “the crowd is nearly always wrong,” or at least suspect. The crowd wanted to return to Egypt. The crowd wanted to crucify Jesus. The crowd has elected and followed some terrible leaders throughout history. Politicians and the media, the cheerleaders of the masses, have agendas in play that are not always readily apparent. Sometimes it feels like a big game of chess where no one wants to reveal his or her strategy, and we end up getting “mated” before we knew we were in the game. Are they trying to get re-elected? Are they trying to sell books or advertising?

At times like this, when the crowd is calling for revenge, it is important to take a long view marked by wisdom that comes from the eternal God. James, the brother of Jesus, talks about two kinds of wisdom, earthly and wisdom from above. He says,

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.(James 3:17-18)

The other kind of wisdom he says is self-serving and demonic. Hmm. We probably want to avoid that kind, eh?

Carl Medearis had an excellent article on Jesus’ counsel to his followers in such situations. Jesus lived in a Middle Eastern culture dominated by an unpopular superpower. Jesus knew men who were considered terrorists in his day. In that time, they called them “zealots.” But many don’t want to hear Jesus’ counsel just now. We want to respond “with strength.” We want to stop the senseless deaths. We want to see justice.

Just before the fall of Jericho a “man” appeared to Joshua with a drawn sword in his hand.

Joshua demanded, “Are you for us or for our enemies.”

“Neither,” came the surprising reply.

Didn’t Joshua lead the Israelites whom God had delivered from Egypt, preserved in the desert for forty years and promised to bring into the promised land? He was certainly on God’s side, but his privileged position had caused a lack of discernment.

The man with the sword went on, “I am the commander of the army of the Lord and I have now come.”

God was not on Joshua’s side, nor is He on our side; we are required to be on God’s side. That reminds me of the premise Henry Blackaby articulated so many years ago in Experiencing God. “Find out what God is doing, and join Him there.” So it is important to pause and figure out just where God is leading, rather than charge into battle and then start praying that God will help “our side win.” What does “win” look like? I’ve often wondered, if the Omnipotent God is really on our side, why do these these wars seem to go on and on? There is no decisive victory. Might it be that God is trying to say to both sides, “Stop killing people I created and love.” The time for prayer and discernment is now, before the bombs.

So many speakers and emails and newscasts fail to consider God’s purposes. They paint with too broad of a brush. The brushes of fear have many themes: xenophobia, nationalism, elitism, economic and geopolitical disaster. The realists and liberals wax eloquent on why we must act, or not act, but in our culture it seems inappropriate in the public sphere (and sometimes even in the church) to ask “What does God think?” Even Christians will use media sound-bytes to defend their preferred course of action rather than Scripture or the promptings of the Spirit.

So here is a question: when you follow Jesus to the mountain to pray and seek God’s face, what is He saying to you about these things? When we pray, do we tell God what we need Him to do or do we try to understand what His is doing and how we can join Him?