Fear itself


I’m not a particularly knowledgeable history buff, but I have found over the years as I get older I find the things of history more and more interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m getting closer year-in and year-out to becoming history myself … haha. In seriousness, I think there is so much wisdom throughout history that we tend to neglect. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to equate written history on level footing with the truth of God’s word, but I do strongly believe that God allows the occurrence of history to happen – in part – for our knowledge, instruction, and blessing.

In our country’s history, there are arguably few presidents who have the legacy that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had. Regardless of what you think of his politics and the New Deal, his leadership – some would argue, fortified by his personal battle with and victory over polio – came during an unprecedented period during our country’s and our world’s history. Taking office during the plunge of the Great Depression, leading the US and co-leading the free world during most of World War II, he won four presidential elections and guided our nation through a perilous phase the likes of which few ever have. Let’s hope few will ever need to. While he ultimately died shortly into his fourth term (yes, a president is typically limited to two four-year terms, but in wartime an exception may be made and understandably was by congress), his mark was no doubt made indelibly.

It’s no wonder, then, that his first inaugural address contains an oft-quoted (and misquoted) component that at that time served to muster the belief of a nation scarred and scared, with 25 percent unemployment, anguish and hopelessness serving as the albatross around society’s neck.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the speech … I just find it interesting to hear how our presidents approached the trials and travails of their times. But camping out on a couple elements of this statement and weaving it into my reading this week from Matthew 20-28 and Mark 1-5 is my primary goal. In particular, I love how FDR worked to wrench hopefulness from hopelessness by identifying the true enemy of the time (would that our current president would take the example of his predecessor … but that’s a separate topic) … fear. He says fear is the primary impediment to hope and survival and rising above the circumstances. He actually points out aptly that fear, “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Masterful! Fear stops us from believing and overcoming and moving forward beyond our present circumstances to our future hope and promise.

In Jesus’ day, the hopes of the Jewish nation were scarred in similar ways. They lived under the thumb of an authoritarian and suppressive Roman regime, and had all but lost hope after hundreds of years of oppression and exile that their promised Messiah would actually come.   And we note that when He did, they struggled to embrace and believe Him, and misapplied their anticipation to expectations that wouldn’t (yet) come, further plunging them into the spiral of a different sort of “depression.” But it personified by the same sort of fear.

In Mark 5:14-17 we see a brief indication of my point …

The herdsmen [tending the pigs] ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had [previously] had the “legion” [of demons]; and they were frightened. Those who had seen it described [in detail] to the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [told them all] about the pigs. So the people began to beg with Jesus to leave their region.

God can do anything. Many times He will, like He did in this situation. Effectively, Jesus had just freed a man long-struck with a “legion” of demons and had the demons indwell a herd of pigs (that’s how many demons there were) and ultimately the poor little piggies were run off a cliff by the demons and drowned. But the formerly-possessed man was freed from a horrendous affliction. The people in that region of the Gerasenes had received something from God they’d hoped for (the man was a terrible danger to their region and probably incredibly scary to have around), and yet instead of seeing Jesus’ liberation of the man as they’d sought, they responded in paralyzing fear. After what must have been a profoundly powerful moment, and seeing the power of the One who could do anything, they said not help me, help us, etc. They said, “Argghhh! Please leave! You scare us. You’re not what we expect.”

See, we sometimes ask thinking we know what we want and … audaciously … what we need. But will we ask God what He wants or what He “needs” and be willing to accept it? Or are there other times when we won’t ask something because we fear He can’t or won’t give it? Here the people in this region were probably seeing in human form the Answer to centuries of prayer and petition to God. And yet, because it didn’t fully fit their expectations of His response … they received what they needed rather than what they wanted, they were overtaken by their fear.

Instead of accepting, we fear. We fear what we see sometimes. We fear what we don’t see other times. This is what FDR was trying to help our country overcome in 1933 during his first inaugural address. Fear is an intruder. It was intruding upon our nation’s ability to rise from the ashes of a depression that tore our country apart at its core. And it intrudes from us receiving what God wants to do. It can intrude from what God wants to undo.

The folks around during Jesus’ time SAW directly what He was doing and what He was undoing and still they feared. For us not only do we see what He does in our lives but we have the whole of scripture to see what He did in others’ lives. And yet … we still fear. In the same way that FDR said, when it comes to our relationship with God, and His work in our lives, fear most certainly “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Our retreat is our inability to trust in the provision of God, like the people in the region of the Gerasenes. Our retreat is our unwillingness to see God’s work being carried out in a different frame of reference than our own. But letting go of that fear unlocks the command of God as He takes us from retreat to advance in His way, in His time.

So what fear is stopping you today from the advance God wants you to have? We all wrestle with it somehow and it affects us all, while perhaps not equally, certainly pervasively. What is it that God is currently doing that differs from our expectation and that we are seeing with eyes of retreat rather than eyes of advance? Where is His provision being received with doubt rather than confidence? My prayer for us this week is that we realize our real enemy is fear, and that God would reveal to us the magnitude of His ability to take our hand and walk us through the hazardous times into the safety of seeing His advance already underway. An advance that has already conquered the legion of demons, carried us through the pit of great depression, and reigned victorious in a war against an enemy set on world domination.

God can do anything. He will do anything. Let’s realize He already is at work on our behalf and the only thing we really have to fear about His victory is … fear itself.

Soli Deo gloria!