Some dreams stick with us for years. Others are forgotten before our eyes are open in the morning. One dream from my childhood remains vivid in my memory, and its central theme involved me frozen to the spot in fear. Sometimes it was in the path of an oncoming vehicle, other times while standing on stage, or at an event where expectations were turned in my direction. There are few powers greater than the power of fear, either to disable us, or to impel us into ill-conceived or ill-timed action: all forms of fear produce fatigue (Bertrand Russell)
It was fear that drove Abraham to lie about Sarah, pushing the king to the brink of adultery. It was fear that caused the spies to baulk at entering the Promised Land; fear which drove Saul to the point of killing David; fear which drove Jews and Romans to killing Jesus; fear which resulted in the disciples fleeing in the face of Jesus’ arrest. The power of fear to impel action which runs counter to the best desires of our heart is great: Where fear is present, wisdom cannot be (Lactantius)
Fear has impacts on every level of life: the personal, the communal, the international. It is fears that often lead to wars, to the breakdown of family and community relationships. We are often impoverished in our relationships because we are afraid of being vulnerable; fearful of what others might do with information we share with them. People can be immobilised by fears grounded in past experiences: the horrors of war and other disasters rekindled in our memories can spark deep responses within us. In many cases we become comfortable with the inherently dissatisfying reality we know because we are afraid to step into the unknown, yet potentially better, alternate future: Fear is the prison of the heart.
Is it any wonder that the most oft-repeated command in the Bible is “fear not”? When angels appear in the OT, these are their first words. When God speaks, he often counsels peace in these words. When a new challenge comes to Moses, who seeks excuses for his participation, God responds, “Fear not, for I will go with you.”
In these words are the grounds of overcoming fear. When we are alone, isolated, or vulnerable, it is the presence of another which can stabilise us in the midst of palpitations and adrenaline surges. With God’s presence, we find strength, hope and endurance:
be afraid, for I am with you.
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you. I will help you.
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
As we face an uncertain future, let us be strengthened in the presence of God who journeys with us, and goes before us, and who is present in the midst of community.
November 18, 2007