“Be afraid, be very afraid.”
Scott Bader-Saye would observe that this is perhaps a warning we may take too seriously, and this absorption with fear has profound consequences for the ways we live our lives, and for those who are Christ-followers, for how we pursue, or rather fail to pursue the life of the kingdom.
The book begins by looking at how fear sells, particularly in the media. Much of the draw that new media uses to attract continued viewership is to play on our fears–of getting cancer, of child abductions, of gun violence, of terrorism and more. He notes research that indicates that the more we absorb of this media, the more dangerous we perceive the world and the more anxious we are. The church plays on this as well–fear is good as a rallying place (and also to raise money!).
All this has a profound impact on our moral lives. Fear leads to insecurity and all the things we do when safety becomes our ultimate concern. We engage in unwarranted suspicion of others, we personally, and sometimes nationally act pre-emptively against perceived danger, and we accumulate everything from money to bottled water against perceived dangers.
The author is not urging “fearlessness” however. Appropriate fear is good, particularly an appropriate fear of God that recognizes the greatness of his holy love. The issue, rather, is one of putting fear in its place by maintaining a proper perspective on the imminence of the things we are encouraged to fear, as well as being grounded in the security of God’s providence. While God doesn’t protect against all evil, He is able to work through it in our lives and circumstances as we continue to trust in Him, as the example of the cross demonstrates.
One of his most beautiful chapters is the one on “Community and Courage” in which he chronicles the response of the Taize Community to the tragic murder of Brother Roger, one of the community’s founders during a worship celebration. Their decision to continue to be a community of welcome meant no additional security measures, no metal detectors. This would mean to live in fear and suspicion rather than generous hospitality as a community.
The book concludes with three chapters that unpack what it means to live out of security in the providence of God rather than fear. This means hospitality that welcomes the stranger. It means peacemaking that risks misunderstanding and being caught in the midst of deadly conflict to bring reconciliation. It means generosity that trusts God’s provision and gives rather than hoards.
There is also an appendix which has a profound exploration of the use of fear in the political arena, particularly because of the breakdown of any positive metanarrative to unite us. It helped me understand much of what drives the political narrative in my country and to see how contrary these appeals are to the narrative of Christian faith, no matter which party they come from. It suggests to me how vital the role of the Christian community is, not in adding political heft to the arguments on one side or another, but providing a “third way” that transcends the politics of fear that polarize us.
This is an older (2007) book that I hope enjoys continued circulation. Each chapter has searching questions that make it useful for church leadership boards and small groups. I’ll leave you with one of these that challenged me:
Try this test. First think about how much you fear losing your house, your car, your savings account, or your job. Then, think about how much you fear being unloving, inhospitable, selfish, or impatient. Which do you fear more? Why?