“Do not be afraid,” is the single most often repeated command in the Bible, having been issued about a hundred times.
God told us not to fear. (e.g. Gen 15:1) Moses told us not to fear. (e.g. Exodus 14:15) Angels told us not to fear. (e.g. Matthew 28:5) The psalmists told us not to fear. (e.g. Psalm 23:4) Jesus told us not to fear. (e.g. Luke 12:7).
I’ve preached on “do not be afraid” countless times. I have to say, it feels good to say to a congregation. It feels good to say, period. As if God intended this command as a form of spiritual Xanax, to set us as ease, and to make us feel safe and secure, come what may.
But, lately I’m beginning to think that this command is meant to do more than merely assuage us. I think it’s meant to challenge us to be our best selves, and to uphold the basic tenets of the Gospel. Because when we are afraid we are rarely at our best. Fear can dredge up suspicion, hatred, and an unyielding desire to inflict pain and retribution on others. Fear can cause us to cast off our neighbor, and cross to the other side of the road when we see a person in need stuck in a ditch. Fear can make us completely abandon compassion, mercy, love of neighbor, and sometimes even just plain reason.
When we fear, we can so totally abandon all that God calls us to, and all that Jesus taught us to be.
Today, when I look at the world in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, I see us being driven more by a visceral reaction to the ideology of ISIS than by the ideology of Jesus. We say, Jesus calls us to be people of compassion… But, not now. We say, Jesus calls us to love our neighbor… But, he couldn’t possibly mean these people. We say, Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for them… But, not this enemy. We say, Jesus calls us to welcome and care for the stranger and those in need… But, not in my state.
Because compassion and love seem wildly naive in the face of all we are dealing with. And, maybe they are.
But, I’m sticking with Jesus anyway.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight ISIS or screen refugees. I think we need to do both – for our safety, and for the safety of all the targets of ISIS.
But, we cannot lose our souls in the process. We cannot lose ourselves to hatred and an appetite to inflict revenge. We cannot allow them to make us so afraid that we forsake the Way of Jesus. For that is when they win.
They can’t bomb every church, behead every Christian, or shoot up every concert. But, if we allow them to hijack the faith that God has given us, then with our help they may very well succeed in eradicating Jesus from the world.
So do not fall prey to hatred. Do not fall prey to suspicion and discrimination. Do not forget to love your neighbor, and do not forget who your neighbor is. Do not succumb to revenge seeking.
And, most importantly: Do not be afraid.