Last year, the most searched Bible term around the world was ‘Do not fear’. As a pandemic rolled through the world, the verse people turned to more than any other was Isaiah 41:10, according to the popular You Version Bible App:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
The words ‘do not fear’ are sprinkled through the Bible like pearls of light. In fact, the Bible says ‘Do not fear’ 365 times – one for every day of the year. It’s almost as if God is trying to tell us something!
So, do not fear. Easy As.
If only it was that simple ...
In 2021, a person will read these words and think to themselves, ‘God tells me not to fear, so I don't need the vaccine.’
Another person will think: ‘God says do not fear, so I should get the vaccine.’
We each bring our own beliefs, worldviews, trauma, terror – and yes, even privilege - to the community table. We need to look deeper into how God is relating to us and our world when he says ‘do not fear’ - and how that models the way we relate to each other.
It’s worth noting that fear is not bad. It’s part of the spectrum of human emotion.
Fear triggers our life-saving ‘fight or flight’ response that can help us run to safety or fight off wild animals. It may have helped us focus during our first lockdowns, as we hunkered down to fight off the pandemic.
But ‘fight or flight’ is created to be an immediate jolt of adrenalin. When the crisis is prolonged, we find ourselves in chronic stress – we may stay in ‘flight’ and deny the crisis, or in ‘fight’ and find ourselves embattled.
‘Do not fear’ is one of the great love stories of the Bible.
We are seeing this happen around us right now, as the long reality of Covid settles on our small corner of the world. We are no longer a team. We are fractured. Fear is disguised as anger, frustration and hopelessness.
The antidote to fear
I spoke to two friends over the last week about the hot topic of vaccines. It’s really personal to them both, and they both expressed that they weren’t keen on getting vaccinated.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that both my friends have experienced severe trauma over the last year. They have been up close and personal with death. One friend has been dealing with a severe condition that can be triggered by a virus. Another is finding it hard to take care of himself, let alone others.
In this place, ‘do not fear’ describes how God relates to us in our frailty. It is a place to find comfort. It guides us in our actions. It helps us check our attitude. Most of all, it expresses the Bible’s great theme that God is deeply entwined in the human experience – so much so that he came to be with us, and became us. ‘Do not fear’ is one of the great love stories of the Bible.
My question went from how can they change, to how can I change?
Maybe the words that sums up all other words about fear is 1 John 4:15-19: ‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us … In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.’
The antidote to fear is God’s love, as expressed fully in Jesus. But God makes us part of the story too. His love is complete in us - which is really mind-blowing! Bible scholar Tom Wright calls it ‘a completed circle of love’.
So, if we want to banish fear, we need to look to Jesus and learn to love how he loved.
A community of grace
Jesus famously described what love looks like: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, (Matthew 22:37).
But Jesus also showed us every day what this kind of love looks like: healing the leper, touching the blind, connecting with a woman standing at a well, bringing thieves and outsiders to his dinner table.
Jesus showed us that loving God cannot be separated from reaching your hand out to others – by being a safe and healing person. And by actually helping others in real, physical ways.
And then, of course, Jesus showed us that he is God by giving his life for us. He showed us that God’s love is sacrificial and selfless, and as expansive as the universe. This sounds beautiful and real, and it's the longing of our heart to live in this love.
But it’s also just boring acts of kindness towards others every day. It’s thinking about what the people around us need, and doing it. It can be uncomfortably selfless. It’s generous. It values the good of the community over our own comfort. It’s gracious towards the people we struggle to be gracious towards.
It’s also kind towards ourselves – because we create together a community of grace. We can be selfless, but we don’t lose our self. We are empowered by mercy, not embattled. What is it Jesus said about losing your life to find it? That really does sound unafraid.
And so, as I step back into our world right now, what does that look like for me? How can I love my neighbour in a way that overcomes fear?
When I connected with my two friends this week, I was surprised to discover that it was not them that changed, but I was changed by them. As I listened to their experience and felt their pain, my heart moved towards them.
My question went from how can they change, to how can I change? One practical way to show them love is being vaccinated so I can surround them, without putting them at risk.
That’s my story and experience. As I said, we each bring our own story to the community table. But we each belong there.
What does it mean for you to love the person at the table with you?
Next time: We’re going to dig deeper into how we bring our own story and beliefs to the table, to help guide us through division.