Terror in the headlines, but “Fear not…”

True confession: when I hear of some disaster — a friend’s terminal illness, a terrorist attack (whether in New York or Mumbai), or whatever — my compassion is mixed with concerns about whether the same thing could happen to me or my loved ones, and with a vague and cowardly search for reasons why it won’t.

That last is of course folly, born of desperation; the thought terrifies me, so I try to convince myself that it “can’t happen to me.” I won’t get colon cancer, for example, because I always took a colonoscopy when the doctor recommended it — or my family won’t die in a landslide because we don’t live near any hills. This way of thinking is just as stupid as trusting in dumb idols (Psalm 135). It’s arguably worse than trusting in one’s own abilities or equipment (Psalm 33), but even these are vain hopes.

Instead, Jesus commands us not to fear anyone, or anything, other than God (Luke 12). It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17), as Paul said (quoting Epimenides). Psalm 104 reminds us that living things, great and small…

…all look to you
      to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
      they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
      they are satisfied with good things.
When you hide your face,
      they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
      they die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
      they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus himself taught us to pray, Give us this day our daily bread (Matthew 6).

In other words, as the old song says, “I need thee, O I need thee. Every hour I need thee” though modern man (and post-modern persons) like to pretend that each of us is the master of his own fate.

The fact is, of course, that just about everything truly important is utterly outside our control:

  • Will my boy (girl, nephew, etc.) come back safely from the war?
  • Will I die of cancer?
  • Does she love me?
  • Will my loved one be hit by a truck, struck by lightning, buried in an avalanche, shot by criminals or terrorists?
  • Will I be found out?
  • Will I get that promotion?
  • Will that pension plan actually pay me anything?

This fact, that I control very little of what ultimately matters, is a truly liberating thought: because I really don’t control life, because it really doesn’t depend on me, I can relax and entrust myself to the one who made me.

Relaxing doesn’t mean to live recklessly (we should fasten our seat belts), but it does mean we can and should refrain from superstitions — and I in particular should stop the desperate search for reasons why “it can’t happen to me.” Because really, anything could happen. It’s not my seat belt that keeps me safe; when a falling iron plate flattens a car, that’s all there is to it. It’s only God’s lavish mercy that preserves us; as Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:22, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed.”

Therefore, let’s not be afraid, but let our compassion be unmixed with silly mind games. Let’s be like the psalmist who wrote in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
      an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
      though the earth give way
      and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
      and the mountains quake with their surging.

Psalm 46:1-3

Let us live like citizens of the kingdom headed for heaven, rather than rats in a maze.

And let’s consider how we can encourage each other in that.

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