Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It’ll turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust
– Bruce Springsteen, Devils and Dust
‘Don’t talk to strangers!’
…these are common phrases heard in conversations between loving parents and children in the healthy establishment of boundaries. As a parent with two energetic, and unreserved children, I can understand and sympathize with the rationale of putting in place such boundaries and teaching children the importance of safety and the reality of danger and evil in the world.
In a world which seems so small due to technological advances and social media; a world in which violence and evil seemingly exists at every turn there is a lot of chatter about ‘stranger danger’ circulating from everywhere—from politicians, to news broadcasts, to social media outlets to pulpits in churches.
Forgive me for perhaps painting with too broad a brush stroke with this next statement, but in all honesty, the more I listen to this ‘stranger danger’ chatter, the more convinced I am that such conversations can be distilled down to two competing ideas, love and fear.
As a follower of Jesus, I am not surprised to see the ideas of love and fear colliding with one another. The more I reflect on the grand narrative in Scripture and my own life and personal experiences, the more convinced I am that the relationship between love and fear is a primary theme in Scripture, and life.
As I look back on my own life, I can say with the always improved clarity of hindsight, that the poorest, most damaging decisions I have made (or good decisions I have failed to make) have been prompted by fear. Whereas the wisest and most life-giving decisions made were led by love (self-giving other oriented love as embodied and modeled in Jesus—1 John 3:16, Eph. 5:1-2, Phil. 2:5-11).
I find it very telling that it was the Apostle John, one of Jesus closest friends and confidants during his three year public ministry, who, after being privy to countless hours in shared conversation and life experiences with the One who was the perfect embodiment of love, penned these words underscoring the relationship between love and fear:
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. – 1 John 4:18-19 (MSG)
John rather bluntly underscores a repeated theme echoed throughout Scripture; fear is a primary impediment to love being properly received and lived out. If perfect love casts out fear, then it stands to reason that the reverse is true also—fear can inhibit the flow of God’s love lived out in the lives of humans, all of whom were created in the image and likeness of the God to both love and be loved.
Fear is a deeply damaging condition that can leave a person incapacitated and self-absorbed. One of the dangers of fear is that it leads to paranoia, which often manifests itself with a mentality of self-preservation at all costs.
The real danger comes when the paralyzing grip of fear not only squeezes the impulse to love out of individuals, but when entire communities, people groups or entire nations become infected by unhealthy fear which can and does so often lead to violence and scapegoating, all in the name of self-preservation.
Sadly, we are seeing this played out in the fear-based rhetoric from politicians, the media and the masses—sadly including many who claim allegiance to Jesus as Christians.
Fear, by its very nature is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ because fear reveals a disposition towards self-interests and self-preservation with little or no regard for others who are seen as potential disruptive threats to personal and/or national security.
Central to the life and teachings of Jesus, however, is the denial of self and death of the ego, which opens one up to receiving and living a life led by self-giving love, rather than self-preserving fear.
While the language of ‘stranger danger’ has an important role to play in the development of awareness and the establishment of safe boundaries in the lives of children, I wonder if such rhetoric, when used by adults claiming allegiance to Jesus, betray a sense of spiritual childishness?
I can’t help but be reminded of 1 Corinthians 13, the wonderful crescendo of love in Paul’s letter to the spiritually dysfunctional church in Corinth. It is in the context of Paul’s beautifully compelling appeal to other oriented (agape) love as of primary importance in the Christian life, that he pens these words:
When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. – 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
What if the amount of one’s thoughts, words and deeds which are motivated by fear and self-preservation are proportional to how childish one’s faith truly is?What if the amount of one’s life which is motivated by fear is proportional to how childish one’s faith truly is? Click To Tweet
What if being rooted and established in the love of Christ manifests itself by living a life free from the life squeezing stranglehold of fear?
As long as the remnants of sin and evil exist in this beautiful, yet broken world, the real risk of ‘stranger danger’ exists. However, the greater danger is when followers of Jesus—the one who is the very enfleshment of love—allow our imaginations to be infected with fear; a fear that either leads to resorting to building walls to keep the other out or resorting to the violence of bomb dropping (whether it be through military force or violent words dropped on social media) towards ‘the other’ rather than lovingly walking in the way of Jesus, the one who both invites and empowers us to love and care for one another unconditionally and indiscriminately.
It’s only when we understand that the greatest danger is not what anyone can do to us, but rather our unfaithfulness to Jesus as a result of fear, selfishness and violence.
“When there is great terror and fear, the question we all ask is what kind of world are we living in? And the answer is what kind of world are we making?” – Rob Bell