Two and a half weeks ago deadly explosive devices were detonated in close proximity to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and scores were injured – some very seriously.
Eleven and half years ago jetliners were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, into the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and into a field in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 3000 people were killed.
These heinous acts evoke exactly the response that gives them their name – terror.
But terror – fear – is an odd thing. That which evokes fear and that which merely evokes a mental shrug can be confusing – even mindboggling. In the years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, nearly 500,000 Americans have died in automobile accidents. The chance of dying in an automobile accident is well over 100 times higher than the chance that one will die in a terrorist attack. Yet I know of no one who fears to get into a car and take a ride.
Those who work in the insurance industry are familiar with the concept of “risk management.” Risk management is a sensible and important activity. Every one of us should and does (to greater or lesser degree) engage in risk management. We look both ways before crossing the street – and teach our children to do the same. We insist that our food be properly prepared and stored. We wear our seatbelts upon entering those deadly automobiles. Some are beginning to attend to corporate risk – is it good for the human race that we derive so much of our energy from fossil fuels, or is this an inherently risky strategy?
Ultimately, however, the only way to eliminate all risk from life is to remove all freedom from life. And precisely at this point risk becomes a spiritual issue – a faith issue.
Christianity is a gloriously complex faith system. It doesn’t easily lend itself to “elevator speech” summary. But it doesn’t hurt to try, and one possible elevator speech is this – Christian faith is about fear amelioration. The Biblical narrative is rife with the admonition “fear not!”
It appears that God knows just how skittish we are – that God knows that deep in the human heart lie reservoirs of anxiety and fear, and that God has come to us partly to drive that fear away.
But God’s strategy for fear abatement is not what we might expect – it’s not some spiritualized strategy of risk management. Rather than shielding us from any and every bad thing that might happen, God through Jesus Christ offers an approach to life that holds promise to keep fear contained and in its place – but not necessarily to shield the believer from all harm. That “strategy” of course, is love.
The beloved disciple (interesting title, eh?) famously wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18). I don’t claim to understand exactly how this works – but it’s a powerful assertion.
It’s clear that risk can never be totally removed from life, but it isn’t inevitable that one need live in fear. Whatever the risk – automobile accidents or terrorism and any other real and dangerous threat, God loves us and whether we live or whether we die, we are God’s (Romans 14:8). And the extent to which we choose love and learn to live in love may be the extent to which fear loses its power over us.
Live in love, my friends. It can change your life!
With great hope!
Iowa Conference Minister