Today my heart is heavy. Two months ago, Americans were filled with compassion. The image of a little Syrian boy washed up on a shore, alone and dead, it rocked us. It moved us to action. We wanted to help, to welcome, to give.
Then Paris happened. And suddenly we realized, helping the vulnerable might actually cost us something. That is when fear began to whisper in our ears. And then yesterday it roared. And then Americans began calling for tighter security, closing our borders, putting up walls.
There is a lot I could say in response to this fear. I could list all the reasons why we shouldn’t be afraid–and there are many–but fear isn’t really rational, is it? Logic isn’t really the point.
Instead, I feel prompted to offer a reminder, of what fear does. Historically, in our nation, this is where fear has taken us. When you follow the fear, this is what you find…
Americans opposing the immigration of Irish refugees. Americans were more concerned with the immigrants’ Catholicism than sheltering them from the ravages of famine.
Americans refusing to welcome Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazi regime. As a result, we accepted a drop in the bucket of Jewish victims, and per capita, we accepted far fewer refugees than other countries.
Imprisoning 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II.
Of course, the weight of American fears has not come down on immigrants alone. They have impacted minorities, the poor, our school systems, our response to crime, our policies on war.
But if we turn back even further, and follow the fear, here is what we find also…
Young Jewish boys slaughtered, because Herod heard rumors of a rival King.
Peter denying his savior, three times.
Jesus crucified as a political threat, and a religious one.
Disciples, Christ-followers, turning their backs, for fear of being crucified too.
Then and now, it is easy to see that fear and love do not easily co-exist. Even when the fear is legitimate–Peter’s fear was legitimate. The disciples’ fear was legitimate!–fear keeps us from obedience. It compromises our witness. And too often it does the most harm to those we are actually called to protect.
It is the reason why, over and over and over, God beseeches us, “Do not fear.” This is not some sweet, self-help message, simply designed to get us through the day. No no, God commands, “Do not fear!” because our witness is on the line. The lives of women and children are on the line. Our credibility as the people who lay down our lives for God and His will–it is all on the line.
Fear is the enemy of obedience. It immobilizes. It makes us hesitant to show the kind of radical love that Jesus showed. THAT is why God says “Do not fear.” Because it’s about WAY more than you.
So if you detect that fear creeping in, if you feel inclined to board up the windows and hide from a scary world, remember what fear has done. Remember where fear has taken us. Follow the fear.
I think you’ll find that the world has more than enough of fear.