Beware the Fearmonger

BY WADE JOHNSTON

It seems like the sky is falling every other day now. From politics to culture to religion to about anything else, there’s one purported cataclysm after another on the horizon. Thankfully, there are plenty of people willing to tell us about them, to give us quick answers, to point the way, to give shallow analysis and paint quick panoramas. Beware the fearmonger, though. Those who live off or for crises are often the last you should give the time of day. Yes, there are legitimate crises, but those are never as clean and so easily labeled and summarized as the fearmonger claims.

Fear, when irrational, exaggerated, or Christless, cannot but kill joy and obscure hope. It cannot help but distract us from our vocations and desensitize us to our brothers and sisters, to our neighbors. Fear, when not grounded, thoughtful, and in perspective, leads to slavery and hates freedom; it latches on to demagogues and narrow thinking, easy answers and bygone days and ways that never actually existed, at least not so neatly as imagined, like a poet in a modern city imagining the splendid pastoral life of a more innocent past, forgetting the mud, stench, poverty and, well, the plague.

The fearmonger lives off fear, though. He or she needs a reason to exist, to be an authority, to write or speak or do whatever, and fear gives him or her that. Sometimes the fearmonger latches on to a real threat and twists it. Sometimes the fearmonger plays up the unfamiliar or unexpected. Often the fearmonger simply pulls something out of a hat, throwing together labels that bring out deep-set prejudices or worries, seizing upon superficial correlations to allege causation (a trusty old trick even if it’s a wholly irresponsible way to study history of any sort or intellectual development). And in his or her quest, the fearmonger is willing to cause division, to sacrifice the reputations of anyone but himself or herself (sometimes thinking he or she is doing so as a servant of the truth, or of the right side of history, or of God or gods or whatever he or she fancies or holds in reverence). In the process, too, it’s amazing how often the fearmonger’s ideology’s or theology’s or politics’ or god’s antagonists align with those of whom they are personally jealous or distrustful or the people they just generally don’t like and haven’t liked for some time, whether they’ll admit it or not.

So what do we do? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do have a suggestion. Perhaps we can let the bird fly. Perhaps we can remember we aren’t a people without hope and that we already have our Savior. Perhaps we can remember that our brother and sister are flesh and blood people for whom Christ, flesh and blood, died and rose. Perhaps we can see in our neighbor, not a threat, but an opportunity to serve that same Christ, even if that neighbor is our enemy, or our perceived enemy. Our Jesus might have mentioned something about that a few times. I think I heard He even loved His enemies a time or two Himself.

Maybe, too, we can fear things that deserve fear while at the same time giving God His well-deserved due, realizing that history isn’t some happenstance comedy of errors, but that it has a center in Calvary and an empty tomb and a culmination in Christ’s return, remembering also that theology’s heart and focus is perfectly capable of being Jesus without our help. Yeah, bad things happen in this world. It’s inescapable, as much as we should rightly strive to limit the damage for our society, our neighbors, and our families, as well as ourselves, when we can do so without sinning. That being the case, we can also find plenty in which to delight. We can look to the skies, not in terror of what might be falling, but in the great and joyful hope of the Crucified who will work all things for our good. We can be, in short, a people of faith, who know the law as the law, and confess its place and purpose, but who also know the gospel as the gospel, and in that find life, meaning, and love that casts out fear. Don’t let anyone rob you of that joy. Christ was nailed to a tree to give it to you.


This article first appeared at Let The Bird Fly and was used with permission.

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