Novelist and teacher Marilynne Robinson once said: “Fear is not a habit of the Christian mind.” A bold statement when most days our fragile minds and hearts are riddled with fear. We live in a culture predicated on fear because fear sells.
You can get voted into office on a campaign of fear, you can build a big institution on a message of fear, and you can sell lots of products and experiences on the “fear of missing out.”
But Robinson isn’t wrong. Fear shouldn’t be a habit of the Christian mind. An unhealthy amount of fear in the mind leads nowhere desirable. The Scriptures constantly remind the church why fear isn’t the habit of the Christian mind:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18
Fear is cast out because of love. A love magnificently displayed in the sacrificial death of Jesus who took a punishment we all deserve. Fear is the seedbed of punishment. We all have this sense of being punished for not measuring up to the standards we set for ourselves, the standards set by others, or the standards set by God.
Love is designed to be our Kryptonite to fear.
Yet, we wallow in fear, promote fear, and love to drink from its vile cup. Maybe another reason the Scriptures command us thousands of times to not fear, fear not, don’t be afraid, or some version of unhealthy fear. Fear is anti-gospel, and anti-Christ.
We are in the thick of the Advent season on the church calendar. The story of Christ coming into the world, and his promised return. A story serving as an antidote of fear. The world was afraid and full of fear. Where is God? Why are the bad guys winning? Where do I fit? Fear.
Advent speaks to the reality of fear. Advent speaks to a future that is secure. The coming of Jesus, the Advent of Jesus, is most certainly a point of reflection during the lead up to Christmas. But Advent is much more because it's about situating our lives in a future reality, an eschatological reality, if you want to be fancy. Fear is often rooted in the uncertainty of tomorrow, and Advent says tomorrow will be better than you could ever imagine. Resurrection Day is coming.
My life is riddled with fear because of forgetting my place and location in time and space. I worry and fear about deadlines for work projects. I live in fear wondering if I’m doing my job well, leading and loving my family well, if my health will hold out, and lots of other points of contention which typically manifest as fear.
Robinson is wrong to say fear will never be part of our existence, even as future oriented people. But she’s right that fear shouldn’t be the main course we eat every day. It should be more of an appetizer and an occasional nibble. A bedtime snack, but soon forgotten after a good night's sleep.
When fear arises, I must have ways of remembering my place in the world. When fear lies and says I know the future, you say: not so. Only God does, and the ultimate future is secure and right and glorious.
Advent is many things. The celebration of the incarnation of Jesus and the hinge point of history. But it’s much more on this side of his death and resurrection. It’s about not living in fear because the future is bright. Not because what we experience here and now is not riddled with darkness. Not because of a naïve optimism that tries to sand off the rough bits. No way.
We can dance with fear, knowing one day fear will be a distant memory. But it will take a herculean and miraculous work of God. The good news is that’s what Christmas and the coming of Jesus are all about. The miraculous Advent of Jesus entering the ordinary and mess of humanity.
Fear is real, but Advent is to help keep fear in its proper location.
Love is our best antidote to fear. And Love has come down.