Fear or faith: What’s driving?

I was in second grade during the first presidential election I can remember.

The year was 1988 and I was eight years old. We held a mock election in our classroom. We were given several days to talk to our parents and other adults we respected and to watch the news or read the paper to discern for whom we wanted to vote. The candidates for that particular election were then Vice President George H.W. Bush and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

I don’t remember a lot of details about that exercise. What I do remember, however, is how quickly the exercise turned cantankerous, particularly as it pertained to the Democratic candidate, Mr. Dukakis. His name was low-hanging fruit for my merciless classmates. But the most damaging critique, one that has continued to stick in my head and was passed on to subsequent political candidates, was that he was the anti-Christ.

How does a second-grader come to such a heavy biblical and theological conclusion? I don’t imagine any of my classmates spent great amounts of time sitting with the local paper in one hand and the Bible in the other doing the proverbial math.

Elementary-aged Sunday school doesn’t generally spend a lot of time wading through Revelation and the various eschatological theories of the end of time. More than likely, they heard adults they trusted making that assertion. Regardless of where the thought was originally conceived, it gave birth to an ugly child in my heart and mind: Fear.

As I reflect back over my faith journey, I realize fear was a powerful presence at many times and in many ways. There was the fear of hell, fear of spiritual forces – both angels and demons – working in the world around me, the fear of an imminent tribulation and fear of the antichrist.

Just this past week, I realized I was not alone in my experience as a Seymour native spoke of how the spirit of fear was both planted and cultivated through his experiences as a young person. Whether intentionally or not, we as Christians have allowed fear to become a driver in faith formation and in the ways we see and interact with the world around us.

The Bible does teach us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In this instance, fear is reverent awe and respect. It is a proper understanding of the greatness and holiness of God coupled with a healthy understanding of our inadequacy.

But this is balanced out by our understanding of the sufficiency of God’s grace and the enduring nature of his love and mercy as demonstrated through Jesus Christ. It is this healthy “fear of God” in partnership with humble acceptance of his love that is the only appropriate and beneficial fear for people of faith.

Other than a healthy “fear” of the Lord, however, the Bible is full of references that are meant to drive fear out of people.

Consider the many times when angels appear to people throughout the Bible. The initial and natural response is fear, but over and over again, the first words of the messengers of God are to drive out fear as they encourage their hearers to “Fear not.”

The angels declare God is moving and working in the world, making fear unnecessary for those who believe. Consider as well the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7, where he writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

And consider the words of the apostle John in 1 John 4:18, where he writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Fear is a natural part of life and is even useful at times. But as people of faith, we must not allow it to occupy the driver’s seat of our lives. We must take care that we aren’t cultivating fear in our own hearts but also that we aren’t planting seeds of fear in the hearts and minds of those who are following our lead, whether they be our children or new believers.

Our faith should inspire a great many things in the hearts and minds of those who believe, but fear is not one of them.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor at First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected]