Episode 1. The Psychology and Theology of Fear
There are so many bad things happening in the world around us – wars and terrorism, poverty and deprivation, slavery and exploitation, and on and on, that many of us have a sense of fear about …
There are so many bad things happening in the world around us – deep ideological and political divisions tearing nations, societies, even families apart, wars, poverty and deprivation, slavery and exploitation, on and on, that many of us have a sense of fear about where this world’s heading. Even those who believe in Jesus.
THE DARK CLOUD
There are things happening in this world, terrible things that we never thought that we would see in our lifetimes – wars, terrorism, Christians being beheaded by Muslim extremists, all sorts of things. And as we watch this stuff on the news each night, it starts to seep into our pores; it becomes part of us. And whether we realise it or not, a sense of foreboding; a fear takes hold of our hearts and our minds.
Of course this is nothing new. I think back to the 9th of September 2001. Why is that an important date? Well, it’s exactly two days before the coordinated terrorist attacks of 9/11. But as an Australian, at least September 9th 2001 is significant to me for another reason. It’s the day that this young kid from Oz, Lleyton Hewitt, won the US Open by defeating the great Pete Sampras in just three sets.
So you can imagine that we Australians had a great old celebration over the next few days. I remember waking up just two days later and switching on the morning news on the TV and being stunned by what I saw. Those planes flying into the World Trade Centre in New York, the towers collapsing, the sheer terror of what was occurring in front of my eyes.
From the joy and elation of this young Aussie kid winning a major Grand Slam tournament against an unassailable opponent to this, this incredible terror. It’s something that changed the psyche of America as a nation. It’s changed the course of history. It affected the psyche, I think, of just about every person on the planet.
Looking back on it all after these years, I think that the biggest thing that I should be surprised about is that we were at all surprised that it happened. As though something like this had never happened before, as though something like this would never happen again.
I remember growing up. I’m part of the post war baby boomer generation that reflected the optimism of peace after the cessation of hostilities in Europe and the Pacific. My whole generation is pretty much a bunch of optimists because of the context that we were born into. And yet the whole time I was growing up the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the world.
The very thing that had ended the war in the Pacific, nuclear holocaust, threatened to destroy the world. For thirteen days in 1962, the whole world held its breath during the Cuban missile crisis expecting the worse and hoping for the best.
So on the one hand, my generation grew up in this incredible glow of optimism. And yet this dark cloud hung over our generation. But turn back the clock a little further to generations that came before just in the twentieth century. World War 1, the war to end all wars, sixteen million dead, twenty million wounded.
The Great Depression of the 1930’s that lasted in many places for well over a decade. No jobs, people starving in hitherto affluent countries. And as if that weren’t’ all enough in 1939 World War 2 kicked off. In just under six years, sixty million people were killed in the deadliest conflict in human history. That was two point five percent of the world’s population.
Then peace. But that threat of the Cold War consuming the world, today, it’s global terrorism, the rise of religious extremism. In fact, right now there are around forty-two armed conflicts being fought around the globe and that’s been a pretty constant figure for over the last half century.
Some make the news, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, terrible atrocities. But others, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and many others see hundreds of people dying every day. And yet it seems the darker the skin is of those who are dying the less interested the western media is in reporting their deaths.
And that’s just a snapshot of what’s going on in the world today. And next month, next year perhaps the list of war zones will change slightly but they won’t be any fewer. The horror and the pure evil won’t be any less. I’ll say it again, we are seeing things happening in this world that we never thought that we would see in our lifetimes and yet this is exactly what the Bible tells us would happen. This is exactly what Jesus tells us will happen, Matthew chapter 24, verses 1 to 14.
As Jesus came out of the Temple and was going away his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the Temple. Then he asked them, ‘You see all these do you not? Truly I tell you not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to him privately saying, ‘Tell us when this will be and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray for many will come in my name saying ‘I am the messiah’ and they will lead many astray and you’ll hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not alarmed for this must take place but the end is not yet for nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places, all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.’
‘Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death and you’ll be hated by all nations because of my name then many will fall away and they will betray one another and hate one another and many false prophets will arise and lead many astray and because of the increase in lawlessness the love of many will grow cold but the one who endures to the end will be saved and this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.’ (Matthew 24: 1-14)
Some things seemed so certain to these people that He was speaking to. The Temple in Jerusalem, Gods own house, surely that would stand forever, surely. Yet Jesus predicted its destruction, which is exactly what happened less than forty years later in AD 70.
So the disciples in private asked Him, ‘Hey Lord, so when is it going to happen and what will be the signs of your coming?’ What answers do you think they were expecting? What signs were they expecting? Angels with trumpets shouting, ‘Glory, glory, hallelujah’? Well why not? That’s how Jesus first coming was announced to those shepherds on some gently sloping hillside outside Bethlehem on that starry, starry night just three decades or so before.
But instead of that Jesus spoke of wars and rumours of wars. He spoke of believers being handed over to be tortured. He spoke of people falling away from their faith, of lawlessness and false prophets of the love of many of those who call themselves after His name, falling away.
And people let me tell you that’s exactly what we see happening before our very eyes today. Why are we so surprised? Why do we act as though this shouldn’t happen? Why do we tremble in our boots? These are the signs of the coming of the end of this age. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen.
And His call to us, His people, His Church is to persevere, is to not give up, is to not let our love grow cold, to hang in there and be His people until the end.
As I look around the Church today, I see in many places that the love of God’s people has grown cold. I see that we’ve become comfortable in our safe little soft pews (in the west in particular). We worry about our petty little first world problems while our brothers and sisters in Iraq are being beheaded. We, the western Church in particular, spend money on ourselves while our brothers and sisters around the world are in such desperate need. And in our personal lives we allow doom and gloom and foreboding and fear to immobilise us.
Well enough is enough. I believe that God is asking us, His people today, ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me’?
Well, if you do then get out there and feed my sheep – Church. It is time for us to rise up in Jesus name. It is time for the Lion of Judah to roar.
LIVING IN FEAR
Before the break, we talked about the looming sense of dread and foreboding that world-events seem to impose on us: Wars, terrorism, atrocities, from 9/11 through to the beheading of Christians in Iraq, through to ethnic cleansing in different parts of the world.
Come on, you watch that stuff on the news often enough and it starts to get to you. But lets now bring all this closer to home. Not something out there or over there or in another country that might threaten me one day but threats much closer to home. Threats in our own backyards, under our noses, in our face because there are more people today listening to this program who live in parts of the world who are under threat than there are those sitting in some safe comfortable place where they know tonight there’s a warm, soft, dry, safe, clean bed to sleep in.
In the 165+ countries in which this program is being heard today the majority of the people who are listening are in a place where war or violence or economic deprivation and starvation are real things terribly impacting their lives. And so albeit I’m a westerner, albeit that I’m blessed to live in a safe place I want to speak into the reality of today in the lives of so many people, into the reality of the majority.
And for those who are sitting safely and comfortably in the place that God has blessed us to be, yes even our faith is under a great threat today. Increasingly secularists are demanding that we forsake our faith in the King of King’s and the Lord of Lord’s. There’s no room for religion in politics or prayer in schools or for Christian morals in the bedroom.
“Who are you?” they demand to know, ‘to tell us that same-sex relationships are wrong or that a man and a woman shouldn’t live together without being married or that people shouldn’t be able to engage in casual sex?’ Who are you to claim that your God is the only God and that all the other gods are wrong? You intolerant religious fanatic you.
Add to that the Richard Dawkins of this world with their books like The God Delusion and Christians everywhere feel as though their faith is under attack. It seems sometimes that the only things that are on the rise are Islam and Secularism. And so whether the threat to our faith and our lives is physical or psychological, whether it’s our outer life or our inner life or both that are being threatened, what I see happening around the world is that Christians are starting to behave like victims.
Instead of living in victory, the victory that Jesus came to purchase for us through His death on the cross, we start thinking like and behaving like the vanquished, as though somehow we’ve been defeated.
Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances are, however your life and your faith are being threatened today, if you believe in Jesus, you have victory in and through Him. Today. Now. Listen to this, Romans chapter 8 beginning at verse 31.
What then are we to say about all these things? If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not withhold his Son but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect, it is God who justifies? Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes who was raised, who is at the right hand of God who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered’. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor present things nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
So if your life and if your faith are under attack today here are three things that you can do to put the courage and the resolve back into your heart.
The first, is to remember that the greatest victory of all human history, the death of Jesus on that cross, appeared to all and sundry like a mighty defeat.
Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the hot-shot preacher, hanging naked, dead on a cross but on that cross He disarmed the power of satan and sin to steal your life. In fact, the Bible tells us in Colossians chapter 2, verses 13 to 15 that:
When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh God made you alive together with him when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2: 13-15)
And this is something Jesus didn’t do as a victim dragged kicking and screaming to a bloody and brutal end. Not at all, Jesus said, John chapter 10 and verses 17 and 18:
For this reason the Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up. I have received this command from my Father. (John 10: 17-18)
See, that very same victory of sacrifice is alive in you every time your life or your faith are attacked. Every time you’re rejected or ostracised for your faith, every time they laugh at you, belittle you, mark you as an outcast or attack you, you are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. Not because I say so but because God does.
The second is not to be surprised when all this happens. Please never be surprised at all because it is precisely what Jesus promises to each and every person who will take up their cross and follow Him. Have a listen, John chapter 15 verses 18 to 25.
If the world hates you be aware it hated me before it hated you. If you belong to the world the world will love you as its own but because you do not belong to the world but I have chosen you out of the world therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master’. If they persecuted me they’ll persecute you, if they kept my word they’ll keep your word also.
But they will do all these things to you on account of my name because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them they wouldn’t have sin but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did they would have no sin but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law. They hated me without cause. (John 15:18-25)
And the third thing, the final thing I want to say to you about having victory is live out and do exactly what Jesus promises will happen to you when you are so persecuted. Here it is. He says it in the very next breath in the next two verses, John chapter 15, verses 26 and 27. He says:
When the advocate comes who I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15: 26-27)
So let the Holy Spirit fill you with truth. How? Dust off the Bible you’ve got. Spend a lot of time reading it and praying. And it’s in that solitary place that the Holy Spirit will begin to pour His truth, the truth of God into your spirit and your soul. It’s in that place that He will give you the courage to go and do what Jesus wants you to do.
Despite the sneers and derision, despite the out-and-out threats against your faith and perhaps even against your life – go and tell people about Jesus. He has been with you and you with Him from the moment you accepted Him into your life.
Go and speak the truth in love. Go and share the wondrous story of the free gift of eternal life that is available only through Jesus at whose name one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord over all.
Because it’s time for you and me to stand up and be counted.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The problem with fear is that it causes us to do one of two things: It’s called the natural fight or flight response. That’s what we do when we’re endangered. Our natural human response is either to confront and fight the foe, or to run away at a million miles an hour. It’s our natural protective mechanism, but when we live with this nagging sense of fear and foreboding day after day, week after week that we’ve been talking about, that’s a terrible thing.
Either we’re angry all the time, confronting people and arguing with them … That’s what some people do when they ignore the truth of God’s Word – the security they have, the safety that they have, with their lives completely in the hands of the God who loves them (the scarred hands of Jesus)
And the other end of the spectrum is the flight response: Running away, as I said, at a million miles an hour – hiding; withdrawing; not engaging with the world around us. In fact, that’s something you see a lot with generation Y and the millennials – people in their mid-twenties and younger.They have, by and large, so disengaged from the world at large and buried themselves in their own little worlds with their friends and social media and entertainment, that it’s positively scary.
I like asking young people to explain to me the political system in their country: How it works, just in simple basic terms, and my observation is that most of them can’t because they’ve completely disengaged from the world at large (the world out there) because compared to their own little worlds, out there’s a scary place.
So, whether it’s fight or flight, let me ask you, “Do you think that that’s any way to live your life? Do you think that people who are in fight or flight mode, as a result of their response to chronic fear, are living the full and abundant and effective and victorious life that God has planned for them? That Jesus came to give them?” NOT!
That’s why this stuff that we’ve been chatting about today is so important. That’s why your Bible is so important. You know, the one that most Christians have up on some shelf at home gathering dust; because the more time you and I spend in God’s Word, the more that the power, the real manifest here-and-now power of God’s sovereignty, becomes real to us. The more the plans of God for this world and our lives become real to us, the more we start seeing this crazy chaotic sad dangerous and in many places terrible world through the eyes of God, through the Father-heart of God, through the love and the compassion of Jesus, through the desire of God to save people from their sin and bring them back to Himself.
In Isaiah 46 beginning at verse 8:
Remember this and consider; call it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things of old; I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand; I will fulfil My intention’, calling a bird of prey from the east and the man for My purpose from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass. I have planned, and I will do it. (Isaiah 46:8-11)
That’s the truth. That’s who God is. That’s exactly what’s going on in this world. And the more that we see the world through God’s eyes, the more we spend time in His Word, getting a view of things as it were from heaven’s balcony, the more fear goes away – that chronic sense of foreboding at where this planet is headed, and where our lives are headed.
The only place, the only place to get this peace is in Jesus.