Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Is It That You Fear?

What are you most afraid of? Polls of the "most common fears" have varied results, but invariably public speaking or some other chance to make a fool of oneself ranks high on the list. Many people are terrified of innocuous creatures ranging from cats to cockroaches. Other contenders for the lead-phobia spot include things that can be life-threatening but rarely are, such as heights, flying, and storms.

All these fears have one thing in common: they make little sense. They almost never involve immediate danger; they occupy the mind to a degree all out of proportion to any real threat. (Many more people die in cars than on planes; far more people are afraid of flying than of driving.) And when actual danger does threaten--well, the phrase "paralyzed with fear" is no mere metaphor, and a paralyzed person is hardly in a position to help himself out of trouble.

It's hardly a new problem; the phrase "don't be afraid" occurs some 89 times in the Bible. One verse that perhaps gets less attention than it deserves is Mt. 10:28: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Not that we are to treat fear of God as we generally treat fear of earthly things: going through life never quite free of the dread that God will cast us into hell. (As some legalists in fact do.) To fear God properly is to fear disappointing Him, to fear being out of His will, to fear trying to take control of life ourselves--which is the true motive behind most earthly fears. (Maybe that's the real reason so many people would rather drive than fly; at least in your car you maintain some control.) Those of us who were blessed with loving and wise parents understand some of this instinctively; we were a little afraid of them because they seemed so powerful and couldn't be bullied or manipulated, and yet we knew that they would never really do anything to hurt us, would in fact protect us from danger.

As more than one person has put it, "Fear God and you need fear nothing else."

You lose yourself in action
To flee some unknown dread;
You pile up earthly treasures
Against the "times ahead";
You fret of wars and rumors
And endless things you hear:
Oh, foolish, trembling mortal,
What is it that you fear?

You look for "anti-aging"
To stem the flow of time;
You lock your doors and bolt them
To hide yourself from crime;
You draw away from strangers
Lest they hold motives drear:
O, god of self-protection,
What is it that you fear?

Your prayers themselves are haunted
By endless trembling doubt;
You beg for what you're craving--
Will God bring it about??--
You plead for certain outcomes
And doubt they will appear:
Then God speaks to you, softly:
"What is it that you fear?

"My perfect love and wisdom
Hold endless wealth for you;
In all life's tests and troubles
My strength will bring you through;
Forget your earthly wishes,
Desires you hold too dear:
Far better things are coming
When it is Me you fear!"

Friday, June 10, 2011

Life Is Confusion

Do a Google search for the phrase "life doesn't make sense," and odds are you'll get some 838,000 results. (I did.) Specifically, life makes little sense when judged by our best reasoning and instincts. It seems that well-laid plans should run smoothly, that people who work hard for dreams should achieve them, that evil should be stopped before it has the chance to do real damage, and that people should keep their health at least for the first thirty-five years of life.

Probably the majority of times, things do happen that way. But when they don't, everyone notices. A woman who followed all the rules of diet and exercise is stricken with terminal cancer at age twenty-nine. A drunk driver collides with an inner-city student who finally achieved the first college scholarship in his family a week earlier--the young man who worked so hard for a better future dies, and the driver whose thoughtlessness caused the tragedy isn't even scratched. Two families, next-door neighbors who to all appearances are equally law-abiding and decent, both pray for protection in a storm--a tornado rips down the street, swerves away from one family's house, and levels the other's.

It's not fair--which is usually what "Life doesn't make sense" means. No one talks about the "senselessness" of a hardworking but poverty-level teacher's suddenly inheriting $2 million willed by a fifth cousin to "my nearest living relative who can be located in six months"--though the odds against it are probably greater than those against the teacher's falling victim to a drive-by shooter. Regardless, the "life doesn't make sense" argument is also a key point of the "Is there a God or isn't there?" question. If there isn't a God, life really is senseless--but then how do you explain the human instinct that says life should make sense? If there is a God, why doesn't He add a little more "sense" to life?

There's a clue in Isaiah 55:8: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD." In other words, it's not only possible that things will happen that make sense to God but not to us--it's inevitable. Truthfully, the very existence of another common phrase, "for your own good," proves that we do understand "higher ways" sometimes must prevail. Your cat can't understand why he needs a rabies shot; a three-year-old can't really comprehend why eating a whole bottle of flavored aspirin is a bad idea; and a high school student is incapable of fully accepting that he isn't ready to vote, drink beer, or leave town for an unchaperoned weekend.

Our understanding is considerably farther below God's than a cat's is below a human being's. Pets and small children rarely hold it against us for long when we do something for their own good. Let's try to be as wise in accepting God's will for our lives.

Life is confusion, life is hard;
Circumstance has no reason or rhyme;
If you search for details of what makes life tick,
Reason falls on its face every time.

Life is confusion, life is tough;
And no matter how hard you may try,
Things will always occur far beyond human power
To find reasons for "whether" and "why."

Life is confusion, life is hard;
But there is deeper purpose behind,
And someday we will see, in a world yet to come,
That all made perfect sense in God's mind.