FDR was wrong. The only thing to fear is fear itself? I mean, rhetorically it’s a great line, but substantively, it’s absolute hogwash. There are plenty of legitimate things to fear. Brown recluse spiders. Tornadoes. Teenagers driving. Losing my hair. I could go on and on. The point is that fear is not a useless or unwelcome emotion. Fear is an important part of being human. The absence of fear is not bravery; it is foolishness. Fear keeps us alive. But as the movie Inside Out taught us, when fear gets in the driver’s seat, our lives are a disaster.
I’ve been feeling a lot of intermittent fear lately. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. These are fearful times. But I’ve also been trying to think a lot about fear lately. It’s a good habit to interrogate your feelings rather than let them run wild. Feelings, after all, can be notoriously fickle, so it is probably not the best idea to assume that our feelings are always telling us the truth.
Fear is the enemy of reason. It may help us to survive in a moment, but it is a really bad guide for making strategic plans. Fear motivates us to move, but once moving, fear doesn’t provide us good directions. How many bad decisions have been explained away with the excuse, “I was terrified at the time!”
Worse is when fear turns toxic. Our fears become despair. When fear reaches this level, it becomes like a black hole. No light is able to escape its gravitational pull. There is no hope, only panic and fear. Toxic fear sneers at the optimist. “What are you so happy about? Don’t you know we’re all gonna die?” Fear, in this way, becomes a sort of zombie reason. It permits only truths that justify and reinforce the fear. This is why my daughter is convinced that every time it rains, there will be a tornado bearing down on our house. Is there a chance that we might have a tornado? Of course. But fear turns this chance into an inevitability. It’s a zombie reason only permitting us to believe in partial truths.
I don’t believe that fear is sinful. I do believe that living in fear can be. Jesus didn’t tell us to not have cares, but he does tell us to cast our cares to him. Fear requires a diverting of attention away from ourselves and towards a source of strength and protection. Fear consumes us when we lack the ability to cast them onto something or someone secure. I think that is what a lot of us are experiencing. We feel fear not just because of the virus, but because of the sense that no one really knows what is going on. We cling to experts, but even the experts disagree with each other every single day. Others hope in politicians to assert themselves and save us with their policies and plans. Or maybe we should cast our cares on technology to save us. All of these have their place, but none of them are going to be sufficient to assuage your fears. Right now a lot of us are having to relearn the basic Sunday School lesson that there is only one firm foundation; Christ the Lord.