We live in an anxiety ridden culture. Our fears, both collective and individual, are all about us-the narcissistic American experience. From terrorism, unknown mosquito borne diseases, to erectile dysfunction, the mass media both plays and capitalizes upon our fears. When we fear inadequacy, sickness, and ultimately death those deeply held emotions may be manipulated and monetized by the world we’ve created. In many ways, our culture has created pathways to fear and is selling solutions to problems it manufactured. In the midst of this election cycle, made all the more dramatic by the recent death of Justice Scalia, fear is the most powerful and only motivator in some candidate’s arsenal. Is the fear real? Are we rightly to be afraid? If the fear is manufactured, ginned up, and exaggerated are the proposed solutions equally false and weak?
I’m afraid of being afraid. I’ve been fearful for so long, sometimes it seems that’s all I know how to be. Perhaps others feel this way. I believe politicians see and exploit this condition in voters. In the Psalms, particularly Psalm 27, the writer starts from this same emotional base line. She asks, “Should I fear anyone?” It’s a good question. Should I fear Hillary, Bernie, Ted, Donald, Marco, Jeb or even the decisions which may be made by the delegates to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church? Should I fear ISIS? Should I fear the local veterinarian who was arrested for dealing heroin? Should I fear? There is so much to fear.
She goes on. “The Lord is a fortress protecting my life. Should I be frightened of anything?” It’s a classic if, then statement. If the lord is a fortress protecting your life, then should you be afraid of anything? The implication is “no”. I’m not sure she sees the fortress or feels like she can touch the walls. Should she be frightened? I don’t know. Maybe she’s trying to cheer herself up, buck up her spirits, and light a candle in the dark. Should we be frightened of the Zika virus, apocalyptic predictions made by one party of the other, diseases we can’t cure, and lives we can’t mend? No, we shouldn’t. But we are. We’re human. Despite the Lord’s promises of protections and no matter how many times we sing “A Mighty Fortress” we get frightened.
Some would argue that, “If I really trusted in the Lord, I wouldn’t be fearful or frightened”. No one can live that way. Our faith in God isn’t measured by our ability to be less human. Lent is when we become more human, more real, less like Christian robots who parrot clichés to a deaf world. The answer to being afraid, according to Psalm 27, isn’t to encamp among the death dealing killers who feed on fright. Fear will eat you alive, beat you to death, and come at you with the brutal force of an invading army.
There is only one way (and it is counter-intuitive) to defeat fear. We must dwell in God’s house. God’s house (and the conditions within God’s house) represents the polar opposite of the violence, death, and brutality which are the hallmarks of fear. This is the one thing the Psalmist says she wants for her life; to live in a place of worship, peace, and joy. She doesn’t want to kill the evildoers, fight the encroaching armies of fright, or build walls to keep the fear at bay. The antidote to fear is God’s Shalom. So yes, I am sometimes frightened and fearful. But I’ve heard the Good News of God’s Shalom. It’s a scandalous message that is reordering my life’s priorities. I’m learning I do not have to fight enemies I cannot see. I can love. I will sing. I will sacrifice. I will learn God’s ways. I will have no time for fear.