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Recent terrorist atrocities in Paris, Beirut, and the downing of the Russian passenger plane in the Sinai have awakened a sense of fear and foreboding in many Western countries. Reactions have ranged from the trigger-happy desire to bomb “them” to dust, to calling a halt to the immigration of Middle Eastern refugees (except maybe Christians), to a general suspicion of all Muslims.
Fear is a very basic and often dangerous emotion. It comes from the deepest and most primitive part of the brain, and it must be handled with great care.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the outset of World War II, famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Unknowingly, perhaps, Roosevelt was echoing the Bible. Over and over God tells us, “Fear not.”
It is especially telling as we begin the season of Advent that the classic readings for the first Sunday of Advent are disturbing, fearful passages in which Jesus describes the close of age in apocalyptic terms. There will be wars and rumors of wars. The very foundations of earth will shake and the heavenly bodies will spin out of orbit. Fearful stuff.
But the last word is not fear and foreboding but confidence and faith. Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
For Christians, the shaking of the foundations, whether from climate change or terrorism, is not a cause for fear but for hope. Christians need to be hopeful people in the midst of chaos, confident in the face of fear. Our world is not in the hands of the terrorists, but in the hands of our risen and ascended Lord. That calm confidence of faith will enable us to deal with today’s crises with wisdom and resolve.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, columnist David Brooks reminds us that raw fear is exactly what terrorists want to awaken by their heinous actions. That’s why it’s called terrorism. When people are governed by fear, they do desperate and often foolish things. The institutions that keep us free and civilized become suspect, as fear-driven desperation grips people’s hearts.
While we must be vigilant, the best way to fight terrorism is to fight our fears, keep our wits about us, and maintain the free, open, and compassionate society the terrorists seek to destroy. If we become like them, we have already lost the battle.