Fear is a net which evil casts over us that we might become ensnared and fall. Those who are afraid have already fallen. D. Bonhoeffer
I went for a tiny little run this morning around the lake by my house, grateful for health, grateful for the remarkable hope I hold for, literally, all of humanity, because of Christ, and grateful for the beauty that attends the newness of the morning. Running this morning, of course, I’m mindful of the many thousands who’ll be churning out their miles through the streets of Boston today, proud that there are at least two members of my own church who are there. Boston is the ultimate in marathons, and this year’s is unlike any other because of the tragic events of last year. This is the year when the runners, the fans, and the city of Boston declare that fear can be vanquished, that lost limbs needn’t stop runners from pressing on, that people in wheelchairs can offer hope to family members of last years victims, that every step is raising money to stand in the gap and support PTSD veterans, and families with children fighting cancer, and more; that runners say, over and over again, that they’re being carried by the spirit of the crowd. The whole thing is a reclamation project, a way of showing fear the door, slamming it shut, and sending fear on its merry way to hell.
I love finding the image of God and snapshots of the gospel in everyday life, and today its not hard to do. Fear is both a chief enemy of humanity, and one of Satan’s favorite and most often used tools. The events of today are rooted in a public groundswell acknowledgement of this, and every runner, every fan, every dollar given in support of causes to serve those on the margins, testify to the reality that fear is an enemy that can be vanquished.
Simply acknowledging this is a huge step, but the good news of the gospel includes several declarations regarding why fear need never shrink our lives.
1. We’re freed from the fear of death, according to this declaration. I have friends who have stared death in the face for their faith. Their belief that death isn’t the end of the story enabled them to live with courage and integrity in the face of persecution. Some of these friends escaped death and others didn’t. All of them, though, lived with integrity to the very end, believing that death isn’t the end of the story. Everything many of us celebrated yesterday is rooted in this reality, and if it’s not a reality for us, the fear of death will creep into our lives and create a terrible prudence, shrinking our concerns to the very private and personal, rather than the large outwardly focused hearts of generous service for which we’re created. I need to live every day intent on doing the right thing, because that matters more than the outcome, even if the outcome is death.
2. We’re freed from ever being alone. The first time I taught a Bible study, the text was Joshua 1:1-9, and the final declaration of that section shook my world that day I studied in preparation for teaching a small group of high school students in Fresno: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The reason we’re called to courage is because God has promised to be with us, ‘wherever we go’. I tell people I never fly alone, and they say, “So your wife goes with you on all your teaching trips?”
“No” I say, and when they look at me for more; “Jesus always goes with me – he travels coach too!” That reality has served me well these past 40 years, because I’ve learned, through the untimely deaths of many friends and family, that our companions for our journey aren’t necessarily always able to with us. Sometimes they even stop wanting to be with us, as relationships drift apart. My dad; a favorite associate pastor at the church I lead (cancer); one of my best friends (paragliding accident); another close mountaineering friend (avalanche). You never know. One thing I do know, though, is that I’ll never be alone. That’s why I take coffee with God so seriously, and nurturing the reality of companionship with Christ. Our fear of being alone sometimes leads us into unhealthy relationships, or shabby substitutes for real intimacy, both of which can suck the joy and hope out of living. How much better to begin with the reality and confidence of companionship with Christ.
There are a host of other fears from which we’re freed because of the power, beauty, and truth of the gospel, but I simply offer these two in order to prime the pump of your own thinking. Because God loves us, God hates to see us enslaved to fear – ever. As runners cross the finish line today, I’m celebrating the image of God in humanity, and realizing once again that the best lives in history were those who gave fear the boot. As my favorite pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said so well:
It is not only anxious fear that is infectious, but also the calmness and joy with which we encounter what is laid on us.
O thou Christ;
What a privilege to be reminded this day and every day, that we’re at our best when we do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Thank you for the many provisions granted us in you which enable to us to choose courage rather than fear. Grant that we might hear your voice and, having heard, move with confidence into the future you have for each of us, clinging to you every step of the way and finding the joy and confidence that are ours in you. This way we will be people of hope in a world still trembling, most days, with fear. Thank you for the adventure awaiting us as we follow you every step of the way – and thank you for the marathon.