Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terror and the Directive "Do Not Be Afraid"

In the NRSV the phrase "do not be afraid" is used  67 times, and "do not fear" is used 55 times.  Each came at times of obvious and understandable distress.  Some of the most memorable:

Moses to the people (Exodus 14:13)
But Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.
and Moses to the people after they crossed the Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:22)
Do not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’ 
God to God's people through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4)
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
   He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
   He will come and save you.’
and again (Isaiah 41:9b-10)
 I have chosen you and not cast you off ’; do not fear, for I am with you,
   do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. 
And again through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:8)
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
The angel of the Lord to Joseph (Matthew 1:20)
But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
And the angel of the Lord to Mary (Luke 1:30
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 
Jesus to the Disciples when he startled them by appearing on the water in the middle of the night (Mark 6:50)
 For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’
Jesus to Simon when he called him  (Luke 5:10b)
Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’
 An angel of God to Paul and Paul to the crew of the ship (Acts 27:24b)
“Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.”
And Jesus to his disciples and followers (Luke 10:4)
 ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.
I kind of figure that there are so many references to fear because...well we do.  And we do terrible things when we fear.  We are afraid to love and make ourselves vulnerable to others.  We try to be the first to wound.  We are frozen in inaction to the call of God on our lives.  We seek safety in ways that are rarely safe (war, weaponry, retaliation and revenge).  We place more value on our physical being than our spiritual beings.  We seek protection from other frail and failing humans.

Truthfully, if we did not live in such fear of our own mortality, we could then truly begin to live.  We are directed--repeatedly--"do not be afraid."  Can we truly ever give up our fear and live fully in faith?  Can we, who claim resurrection, ever truly stop fearing mere physical death as we sacrifice ourselves time and again spiritually?

In light of recent events, fear is everywhere.  Fear is in every unfounded accusation of blame and guilt.  Fear is in every passed along news article capitalizing on human tragedy.  Fear is in our hearts and minds as we contemplate what we thought was safe and unsafe.

In a conversation with a woman who lives alone, on the topic of fear, she said "why worry, if something is going to happen it will happen."  Mind you she did not mean she took unnecessary risks.  She locks her doors and has guard dogs, etc.  I think what she meant is that you can worry so much about fear that you don't live, and even if you take reasonable precautions, sometimes things happen anyway.  You might as well quit fearing and live.

So, as you peruse the news, or facebook and twitter feeds, or your email inbox; as you discuss bombings and devastation and loss of life with friends and colleagues, try to remember.  "Do not be afraid" even in the midst of trials, God is with us.  There are worse things than physical death, the death of the spirit and not really living life because of fear are much worse. 

Do not be afraid...sometimes easier said than done, but practice makes perfect.

"Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid."  Frederick Buechner

No comments: