It's no secret that we live in a culture that runs on fear. Even in precedented times, our screens were filled with headlines about all the things we are supposed to be afraid of - from statistics about violent crime in our communities to the latest research studies about all the things that will cause our early death to the 'hidden dangers' in everyday products that we all use around our homes. Fear is a motivating factor; it's how markets move. It's also how you keep a person from moving too much and upsetting the status quo.
I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a lot of talk about fear in our 'unprecedented' times, too. It seems to be the number one go-to response for anyone who doesn't want to do what is recommended for us. Don't want to stay home? "I'm not afraid." Don't want to wear a mask? "I'm not afraid." Don't want to hoard toilet paper and disinfecting wipes? "I'm not afraid." This kind of attitude has quickly led to a widespread understanding that being "not afraid" is a sign of one's arrogance. When you say, "I'm not afraid," the world shoots back with how you must, then, think yourself invincible. How you only care about you, since you won't do what protects others. How your arrogance makes you unworthy of assistance, should you require it later.
The world attacks "unafraid" as "uncaring" because that's how the word is being used these days. But being unafraid isn't about being cocky.
This morning, I was reading in Isaiah, and the prophet says plainly, "Don't say that everything these people call a conspiracy is a conspiracy. Don't fear what they fear. Don't let it terrify you" (Isaiah 8). But then the very next thing he says is, "The Lord Almighty is the holy one."
You've probably heard that the most oft-repeated command in the Bible is "Do not be afraid." But how often do you pay attention to what comes after that? Why shouldn't you be afraid? Because the Lord your God...
There's a whole segment of the Christian community that misinterprets this verse structure and turns it into the kind of arrogant bravado that we should not have. They turn it into either a naivete - refusing to acknowledge the realness of something truly scary in the world - or they turn it into a blind, groundless faith - thinking that because they love God, He will protect them from all of that. So they live their lives pretending the world isn't a dangerous, broken place and that God is all sunshine and rainbows and stress-free living, and so of course when we say we are not afraid, we stir up all kinds of wrong connotations.
Being unafraid isn't about being naive or developing a false bravado or committing God to what He didn't promise. Being unafraid isn't about thinking ourselves exempt from the very basic things that we know help us to navigate a broken world. Being unafraid is a sober state of mind that acknowledges the complexities of both life and faith and chooses to rest wholly on God's holiness and presence. Being unafraid is holding in tension the dual realities that the brokenness of this world is very real and at the same time, it is an illusion. Today is difficult, but greater days are coming. The world is hard, but God is good.
The problem that we have with fear is that those of us who live in faith see right through it, and if we choose not to be afraid, the world thinks we're not taking it seriously. But true faith takes this world very seriously...and then chooses to live as a citizen of the next one. True faith embraces brokenness and squeezes it together in love, all while knowing the Love that is holding everything together. Absolutely, we are called to be a people who are unafraid and who do not lose heart.
What we cannot do is allow our courage to become bravado and our unafraidness to become arrogance.
Because the Lord our God....