OP-ED by Daniel Bendele
If you’re like me, you maybe thought 2020 would be crazy. Every election year is. Especially lately. But not this crazy. And certainly not this kind of crazy. A global pandemic and never-before-seen lockdown measures? Check. A roller coaster economy? Check. A planet full of wildfires, floods, hurricanes? Check, check, and check.
In the meantime, our cities are experiencing riots, insurrection, and the desecration of churches. Half the country openly supports Marxism, and now another seat on the Supreme Court Justice needs to be filled. It’s a little scary, isn’t it? It sort of feels like a never-ending action thriller, where everything seems to be building towards a climax… but it’s real life.
Maybe you’re thinking about your past. Maybe you’re considering your eternity. Maybe you’re just generally anxious about what to do next. As someone who analyzes politics, religion, and history, this may seem like a break from my normal authorship. But as that person with a broad perspective of world events, I hope you find comfort in the purpose of this piece.
I am here to remind you of this familiar message:
Be not afraid.
Please know I am not trying to be cavalier regarding the real pain and suffering people are facing. I personally know people who have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. Others have lost their job or business due to the lockdown measures or rioting and looting. I’ve read the reports about the exponential rise in cases of depression and suicide. It is an objectively precarious time we find ourselves in.
But it is precisely during these times that the exhortation to fear not is more important than ever. Too few Christians have said it. Even fewer have believed it for themselves.
Let me explain. Did you know that phrases like “fear not,” and “be not afraid,” occur hundreds of times in the Bible? Amid some of the most dire or fantastical situations, God or His messengers exhort people just like you and me to stand up and have courage.
I found the phrase “Be not afraid” 26 times. An angel told Elijah to “Be not afraid” and confront King Ahab who wanted to kill him (2 Kings 1:15). Jesus said it to His Disciples when He came to them walking on the water during a terrible storm (Matthew 14:27). Again, Jesus said it to the ruler of the Synagogue whose daughter had just died of an illness (Mark 5:36). Over and over again we are told to not fear potential or even very real disaster.
Why? Why should we not live in fear?
If you are a Christian, you know the answer. It’s there on the tip of your tongue like a forgotten song that you used to play on repeat, but just can’t quite think of right at this moment.
The real answer is an eternal one: We were made for more than this world.
In fact, I recently heard that this time on earth is traumatic for those of us who feel, deep down, our eternal and spiritual value. This is because our souls, which are eternal, were made for Heaven.
C.S. Lewis explained this in the Chronicles of Narnia. (SPOILER ALERT)… In the final book of the series, The Last Battle, our beloved characters are taken to Heaven and it is described thusly,
“But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here…”
We are living in the shadow of reality and, like all shadows, this is an inferior model of what it represents.
“But,” you say, “I live in the here and now. This is my reality now. It is still scary. I still have a family, friends, young children, elderly parents. I don’t want to suffer. I do not want to see them suffer. I know there is heaven to look forward to, but how does that help us here?”
Additionally, it’s hard to remember an eternal perspective because it has been drowned out by countless articles and other “pro-tips” on how to make things better, or frankly, how to escape our present discomfort – like how to get along with your family during a lock-down, or how to deal with an insufferable boss while working remotely
I get it. So consider the following my “pro-tips,” on how to deal with that nagging anxiety and fear this year has brought:
First, consider this quote:
“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.”Saint Augustine.
Next reread the scriptures:
James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
These reminders bolster our exhortation to, “Be not afraid.” Suffering, then, is an inescapable part of living in the Shadowland, but we are to do more than grin and bear it. If endured without fear, suffering is an essential element for preparing us for the real world to come. Not only does it “perfect” us individually, as the writer of James says, but it actually allows us to participate in some small way with Christ’s own sufferings, and thus aid in the redemption of our fellow brothers and sisters.
Did you catch that? Our present sufferings can actually help our fellow brothers and sisters be redeemed, when endured without fear, or even with the joy of suffering’s eternal value.
The Church has taught this for centuries, but like that song you have forgotten, this message has seemingly passed beyond remembrance in exchange for the latest fad.
But now you can remember! So when you feel that anxiety start to build as your kids go back to school, or you see the latest election coverage, or whatever it is that causes your blood pressure to elevate and your mood to darken, hear this message:
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a practical pro-tip: Get some real friends.
It is much easier to endure troubles alongside a community. This is something sorely lacking in our culture, but it is of inestimable value. We have become atomized and obsessed with consuming stuff to make us feel better, rather than surrounding ourselves with people who can help us lift the weight of fear.
Yes, make real friends. This will likely require you to move outside your comfort zones. It will mean inviting people over to a messy house. It will mean disrupting the schedule that keeps your children sane. It may mean giving up some potential income or personal leisure time, but it will make all the difference when these trials inevitably show up on your doorstep.
As I mentioned before, this is not my usual analysis of politics and current events. But in many ways, this message is much more important than any of that.
I’m tired of reading about the rise in suicides amongst teens and the working class. I’m sorrowful for the friends and family I know who feel isolated through these trying times. My prayer is that we all remember the value of true community, and overcome the fear and anxiety poisoning our culture and our nation.
We desperately need an army of Christians to boldly stand up and share the message of our Lord, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
BE NOT AFRAID!
Follow Dan at FB @danielkenton.bendele