It must be awful to go through life terrified; to believe that you are perpetually in danger, to always be threatened by encroaching predators lurking in the shadows and around the corners and beneath the bed. What a drag it has to be to walk through every day looking over your shoulder, certain that attack is inevitable and you are soon to be overtaken.
And yet this is the experience of far too many Christians in this country; people who have been a people weaned since birth on a faith of fear:
Fear of Hell from a loving God.
Fear of immigrants stealing their jobs.
Fear of refugees bringing terrorism in a Trojan Horse.
Fear of Transgender people lurking in bathrooms.
Fear of Atheists assailing their freedoms.
Fear of brown people brandishing violence.
Fear of Hollywood perverting their children.
Fear of Non Christians converting their children.
Fear of the Government coming for their guns.
Fear of the Media distorting their reality.
Fear of the Devil coming in the form of Muslims, Gays, and Liberals.
It all helps create a monstrous, Frankensteined faith that has turned on them. Somehow, what should be a hope-giving, life-breathing, joy-inducing gift, has been reduced to a sanctified burglar alarm, forever forecasting doom, forever inciting panic, forever triggering outrage.
And as a Christian, this makes me so very sad because it’s a million miles from the heart of the story—that story is one of a Maker who says: Do Not Fear.
It is the most common command in the Bible. It is the continuous golden tether running throughout the Scriptures; the assurance that faith is the antidote to all that terrifies us. It is the steady declaration that if God is indeed God, we are safe and loved and that all will be well.
The poet of the Psalms writes in his 27th song of praise: The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid? (Apparently no one’s read that over at the White House or FoxNews or in a large portion of Evangelical pulpits in America, because they’re all shaking like dogs before a coming storm and trying to convoke us all to tremble too.)
That so many who claim this same religious tradition and profess adherence to this same text spend so much of their days as if the sky is imminently falling, is something that as a pastor I grieve deeply. I don’t know how to process people who can simultaneously say they trust a God who supposedly spoke the Universe into being—and yet can’t handle a Starbucks cup, an Evolution class, a gay couple in their church or some distraught refugee families. It’s the very pinnacle of cognitive dissonance to say In God We Trust while proving with every frantic, desperate move that they trust no one.
In the Old Testament, Joshua is chosen to succeed Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. The Scripture says he is encouraged by the voice of God saying: Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I don’t believe many Christians have heard that voice. I don’t believe they truly rest in this truth. Because those who’ve heard that voice and rest in that truth wouldn’t be so damn terrified all the time. They wouldn’t be so obsessed with protection and insulation and damnation, they wouldn’t have so much contempt for the diversity around them—and they wouldn’t be so angry.
The Gospel biographer Mark tells the story of Jesus in a boat with his disciples, when a furious storm engulfs them. Panic-stricken, they rush to find Jesus in the back of the boat sleeping on a cushion and questioning his concern for them. Just before calming the wind and the waves, he asks them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I wonder how those who profess faith in Jesus, yet preach a Gospel of terror would honestly respond to such an inquiry? I wonder how their hearts might be renovated if their religion became a source of security rather than fuel for generating fear. I wonder how differently they might respond to the real pain and despair around them.
I keep waiting for the people of God to act as if they believe that God is God.
Fear is a powerful drug.
It’s a fantastic political tactic.
It’s a wonderful manipulator.
It’s an effective motivator.
But it’s a really lousy religion.
May more Christians in America come to believe that the sky is not falling, because they know the One who holds up the sky.
And may they stop being so very afraid—for their sake and the sake of those they fear.