What are you afraid of? What is it that terrifies you? I’m afraid of lots of things. Flying, for one, causes me great fear. My mother is terrified of snakes. My sister, clowns. My husband, going in the red on our monthly budget. We all have fears. Anyone who says otherwise is lying or selling something.
Fear, most of the time, causes great anxiety, our blood pressure increases, we begin to shake, we pass out or throw up, we have nightmares. Fear is mysterious, unique to each individual and yet universal in its existence. We often cannot predict when it will arrive and we have very little control over it when it shows up. Fear is the elephant in the room of our lives, except the elephant is more like a dragon, spewing deathly balls of fire, burning up our insides while we try to pretend we are fine.
And the angel said to her, “Fear not” Mary…. (Luke 1:30)
And the Lord said unto Joshua, “Fear not, neither be thou dismayed…”(Joshua 8:1)
Fear not Abram (Genesis 15:1)
What ails you Hagar? Fear not… (Genesis 21:17)
And Moses said unto the people, “Fear not” (Exodus 20:20)
Fear not, I am the first and the last…(Revelation 1:17)
I have been told many times “Fear not!” is the most often used expression in the Biblical text. Often when I am struggling with fear The Church, Christians and leaders within the Christian community want to tell me this: “Fear not Erin. “Fear not” is the most used expression in the Bible! God doesn’t want you to have fear.”
I’m done with this answer to my problem with fear. I do not want to be told simply that I ought not to fear. As I said earlier, fear is not rational so why give it a rational response? I can’t be talked out of fear, can you? Perhaps for a day or two, but the fear always returns in one shape or another. I do genuinely believe that God does not want us to have fear, but we do. Every major character in the Bible had fear. Jesus was afraid to die. Fear, it seems, is inevitable.
Fear is a basic human emotion that resides in every human person at one point or another in our lives. Fear is the face of the unknown, the mysterious and the uncertain. Much of what happened in our Biblical text is unknown, mysterious and uncertain. Life is unknown, mysterious and uncertain. God is unknown, mysterious and uncertain. So why can’t our Church communities come up with a better response and ways to encounter fear?
Some people say The Church is dying and in order to survive The Church needs to change the way it does its work. I believe one of the ways Church needs to change is by way of helping us deal with the mysteriousness of this existence and all that encompasses, including fear.
Church could shepherd us into our fears and out safely, without answers or solutions. By helping us navigate the murky waters of our fears, Church could be that hand of God that carries us through its mystery. Church could sit with us in our fear, in silence, as a friend holding our hand. Church could admit it has no answers, that life is indeed mysterious and unknown; that we are helpless and that is okay. Church can show the greatest gift by allowing its people to get existential, to wander in the mystery, to come face to face with our fear. This gift is love.
In the face of many Biblical characters who had fear God showed love. Mary likely never stopped being afraid, and she was shown love in the form of her child. Moses walked through the desert, all the while listening to the fears of those who followed him, showing them love in their misery. Jesus was forsaken on the cross, in love and for love despite all fears.
Fear will never stop coming. There are no answers for it and we do not have to pretend as if those answers exist. There’s no pill you can pop, no magical words that will release you, no matter how many Hail Mary’s you say, fear will always exist. But love, as Church can remind us and more importantly demonstrate, will always be on the other side of our fear. Love is what Church is all about. Manifesting God’s love in the world is why Church exists, who better to deal with fear then?
We need a Church that has no answers, helps us wander into the unknown, to explore the infinite mystery and come face to face with our fears. This is perhaps the most loving act of all. It is, at least, the most honest and we need honest and loving Church. Not Church with answers or Church with more fear to dish out; just honesty about the infinite mystery of it all and enduring unconditional love to any who journey through fear in this life our mysterious God gave us.