Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. —Isaiah 41: 10
Do not be afraid, friends. Do NOT be afraid. Scripture implores us to not be afraid (below is a picture that collects all the occasions this phrase is used throughout the Bible…it’s difficult to see, but you should Google it, it’s fun). Easier said than done, I know. Fear is a legitimate emotion that most often does a decent job of keeping us alive. So why does scripture implore us so frequently to ignore or somehow shrug off this essential, primal human emotion? There are at least 3 reasons I can think of immediately:
1) When we fear something, we usually find ourselves trapped in tunnel vision, the source of our fear is all we can see. This is a good thing if the thing we are afraid of can be dealt with immediately (like if a car is speeding toward you, or you hear a rattlesnake lurking nearby), but tunneling can be an incredibly bad thing when what we fear is systemic, ongoing, or unavoidable (like pollution, climate change, or death). The call to “not be afraid” can be great advice if the source of our fear can only be dealt with by observing and thinking outside the tunnel.
2) The call to not be afraid is often given by angels and other messengers of God. God’s good news is always transformational and life changing. If it’s good news…then why would we be afraid in the first place? Because humans fear change. All the time. Even if the change is good. We trust most what we’ve always known, and the new and unexplored is almost always full of anxiety and fear. God’s messengers would tell us, “Something really amazing is about to happen…but if you are too afraid to enter into a new life, then you will miss the whole thing.”
3) There are many things in the world–most of them people–who thrive on fear. They literally require your fear in order to exist. In the school yard they are called “Bullies.” In the Roman Empire he was known as “Caesar.” In the 2016 American Presidential Election, his name is “Trump.”
For all these reasons…we cannot allow ourselves to be afraid of Donald Trump, or the people who would like to elect him as our next President. Be not afraid…we do not have the time…and your fear only serves to make him stronger.
I see people making comments all day every day about how terrifying the rise of Donald Trump is in Republican Politics. I then read even more comments about how people fear Trump’s supporters more than they really fear Trump. I feel a great many things about this event in our country…but none of them are fear. Trump is an overpaid reality star in the middle of a decades-long ego meltdown (I read a piece yesterday that suggests–for real–that his entire run for the Presidency might be a reaction to President Obama making fun of him at a White House Correspondents Dinner). There’s nothing scary about the people who follow him, either. The fact that most of those supporters are white males who are getting excited about public vulgarity, and attacking people of color….that angers me. That fills me with sadness. The threat that they pose scares me inasmuch as I don’t want precious people of any kind to face violence or hardship because of a bunch of bigots who can’t properly process their way through their existential crises…but even that is not to be feared as much as…expected. We can’t forget that America’s past is riddled with race-fueled acts of grotesque violence. Public lynchings were still in fashion in many areas of the country when my grandparents were born. When my parents were kids, segregation was legal and public beatings and harassment of Black Americans were commonplace. Just because we’ve had a few decades of less overt racism…we should not be surprised to find that there are plenty of angry, emotionally stunted people of privilege who will take advantage of an opportunity to feel better about themselves by attacking people they view as “less than.” It’s all very troubling. It’s all extremely sad…tragic, I would say. But…be not afraid.
When Jesus was awoken from a great nap while sailing across the Sea of Galilee because his disciples were convinced a storm was going to kill them, he said, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”
So I put the question to you: Why fear this petty man and his misguided followers, when it is exactly our fear that makes them powerful. Don’t we have faith in something greater than what they claim to stand for?
Our world can be a terrifying place–we see the planet we live on changing right before our eyes, violent extremism runs rampant, our economic systems favor profits over people and nature–and every day it seems there’s something new to fear. But when we spend our lives in fear, we focus too much on the source of our fear, forgetting that we are God’s Beloved with the power to change much of what scares us.
We need not fear…but hope in our God. Our God is the only ultimate power in the cosmos. It’s God who birthed the stars, and it’s God who will, someday, extinguish them. Be not afraid…that’s part of the plan. It’s built into the system.
If you see something you don’t like, you have a voice, you have gifts and abilities, you have a world wide web and ever-present digital media network, you have the right to vote, and you probably have the power to direct your money toward campaigns and programs and groups and items that could help make your deepest hopes more real. When we are afraid…we forget all that. Fear inhibits our ability to hope, and prevents us from taking steps toward transforming sources of fear into sources of new life. Be not afraid. There are exciting things in the world I don’t want you to miss out on.
This weekend I read about plastic being made out of carbon dioxide. I heard about a strain of bacteria that can eat plastic. I read about a group of people who have developed a process for ridding our oceans of continents-worth of garbage. Electric cars are now an affordable reality, and soon we could use them to power our homes. DeRay McKesson, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, is running for mayor of his hometown Baltimore, Maryland. My friend Sellus Wilder is running a campaign for Rand Paul’s seat in the U.S. Senate, and the first sentence of his campaign platform reads: I support an economy that values the lives of real people more than profits and power. Oh, and then there’s this video:
These are just a few of the things that are currently helping my hope outweigh my fear. They are powerful reminders of the potential that each of us possess to shape the world as we hope it to be. Fear prevents us from acting. Fear prevents us from seeing potential solutions, from articulating goals and dreams, and building the communities required to achieve the kinds of change that are essential for our continued survival.
Be not afraid. Be hopeful. When you encounter people whose attitudes and actions make you afraid, teach them how to hope in something better.