The Politics of Fear & Overcoming the World

When people are afraid they try to make sense of what they are experiencing. In those moments, the narratives we have ingrained in us come right to the front. The Boston bombers are a great example of this. Some immediately jumped on this news that these guys must be white right-wing wacko’s. Why? Not because that is what anyone knew that to be fact but because that fits some people’s agenda. It fits their narrative so they just made it up. When fear is present agendas become most obvious because fear is a great interrogator…it gets us talking and spilling our guts over our thoughts, values and preconceived ideas and puts them out there for all to see and hear.

Fear’s use in politics
This happens in politics all the time. You can’t have a good political speech without one of two things behind you. You either need a dozen American flags or else you need all sorts of people used as window dressing behind you. You don’t get placed behind the President or prominent politician on accident. The people who are placed there are very carefully selected. They are carefully selected because they are used to communicate something. If they are pressing for gun control, they put victims on the stage. If they want to talk education, they put some kids on the stage or the latest spelling bee champion. If it is about social security they put some elderly Americans up there. Here is the message – if we don’t do something BIG right now these people you see up here are going to get hurt (whether it is true or not, who knows). If you don’t support this then you don’t support those on the stage. You must be heartless.

Now here is what is important…It doesn’t matter if the bill they are pushing would actually would work or if they have their numbers right on the actual cost. All that matters is that they look like they care. That’s it. And fear is used all the time to promote change because you can get people to accept things they might otherwise never even consider when they are afraid. It is easier to hand over freedom to someone who you think will protect you when you are afraid. You can convince people of things that don’t even make any sense when they are afraid. You hear that in this quote from Rahm Emanuel (who would become President Obama’s Chief of Staff) in talking about the financial crisis in 2008 (more info on this quote),

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

That is the politics of fear described very eloquently. That is using fear as leverage for the change that might not have a chance otherwise. Republicans and Democrats both do it. This is not about roasting one side and ignoring the other. Both sides should be ashamed of that but it is easy to understand why they do it…it is highly effective.

The good news
Now, here is the good news. God doesn’t want His people to be people who lived terrified lives. Compare this quote from 1 John 4:18 against the Emanuel quote above,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

God’s love overcomes all fear because through Christ God took on fear and overcame. Fear was challenged in the Garden when Jesus prayed and fear was ultimately defeated when the tomb was found empty. When Jesus stands there and makes his appeal to us he doesn’t need flags behind him. He doesn’t need a crowd of people to make his point. Jesus can stand in front of the empty tomb and command, “Fear not” because the worst thing the world can do to you is send you to be with Jesus. Don’t let people sway you or push around your resolve with fear because God’s team wins. So be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.


Fear, Control, and the Crucifixion of Jesus

While studying John 19 last night we talked about the role of fear in the crucifixion of Jesus. In John 18:33 we infer the charge against Jesus was insurrection as a competing king, “King of the Jews.” But in 19:7 the Jewish leaders mention Jesus’ claim to be the “Son of God” and we learn Pilate’s reaction was one of great fear. The Romans believed Caesar was the son of God and divine. Pilate realizes the likelihood of this situation going south has just increased substantially. So Pilate asks Jesus the question would determine his divinity, “Where do you come from?” Pilate probably already knows he is from Nazareth as the is what the plaque attached the cross eventually reads but that is not what Pilate is getting at here. Is Jesus from heaven above or earth below? Where and when does he originate from? This takes us back to the prologue that tells us Jesus has always been and that he came from God.

But anyway, back to fear. The whole crucifixion scene is laced with fear. The Jewish leaders are afraid of losing their positions of honor. Pilate is fearful of the divine but even more so afraid of Rome, Caesar, and losing control of this situation and his position. The disciples are fearful. The only one portrayed as fearless is Jesus Christ. He is still in charge even in control of the time for his spirit to be given up. What an amazing contrast for the crucified one to be confident, courageous, and in control while the ones vying for control of this situation are full of fear.

Fear is a powerful thing. We fear the unknown. We fear losing control of situations. We fear what we don’t understand. All of those seem present in the mind of Pilate and the Jewish leaders (all speculative, of course). We can only be fearful of those things if we are arrogant or prideful enough to think we are big enough to know where everything is headed, have total control of each and every situation, and have the ability to understand everything that comes our way. Life just doesn’t work that way. So we are faced with a choice. Do we side with fear and feebly try to maintain control over things we can’t. Or, do we side with the only one in the room who has no fear, is in total control, knows exactly what is going on and can control the outcome? I think I will opt for the second.

Gospel of Mark – From Fear to Faith (4:35-5:43)

The NIV chapter break between 4 and 5 is in an unfortunate place. 4:1-34 is a distinct unit and 4:35-41 clearly fits together better with the miracles in chapter 5. There is a common theme in the four miracles in these verses. In each one people are afraid and each time Jesus points to the importance of moving from fear to faith.

Jesus Calms the Storm (Mark 4:35-41):
What’s the big deal…Jesus calms one storm on one sea to save one boat full of people. Out of all the storms, seas, and people who have needed saved why is this one such a big deal? Ben Witherington (Mark, 174) points out the first big picture item that is happening in this series of stories. What three forces in the ancient world can you name that would be outside your control?

1 – Nature
2 – Spiritual powers
3 – Death

In these stories Jesus confronts these head on, commands them into submission, and wins. Notice what Jesus says to the storm, “Quiet! Be still!” He commands it. He speaks to it. He is re-creating and subduing nature. In the very beginning God separated the waters above from the waters below (Gen 1:7). In Mark 1:27 Jesus rebuked an evil spirit and it obeyed. In the next story Jesus rebukes a legion of demons and they obey. Jesus is not just calming one storm. He is demonstrating a far greater power through this one representative act. The kingdom of God is breaking in and people are going to need new wineskins in order to accept this new wine because what happens next is even more inconceivable. But first notice the reaction of the disciples – they were afraid and Jesus calls them to faith.

Jesus Triumphs in Gentile territory (Mark 5:1-20):
In 4:35 Jesus said, “Let us go over to the other side.” Other side of what? The Sea of Galilee. What was on the “other side?” Gentile country. We tend to read the Gospels very flat with one miracle being just as astounding as the next but that is not how they would have heard this. Jesus is crossing into enemy territory. On the way in they go through a storm, which he stills. When they get there they dock the boat at a cemetery, next to a field of pigs, and a bleeding man filled with not just one demon (like in Galilee) but a legion of 2000 demons. In the words of Three Dog Night, this is the place “mama told me not to come.” Just like with the storm, Jesus commands the demons out of the man and they obey.

From this point on we get a back and forth parallel between Jesus ministry in Galilee and his ministry in Gentile country across the Sea of Galilee. Each time they enter Gentile country they encounter a storm (BWIII, 174). The order of Jesus’ miracles in Gentile/pagan country mirrors the ministry he did in Galilee (Jewish country). Ever wonder why Jesus fed 5000 and 4000? It was not 9000 Jews he fed. It was 5000 Jews the first time and 4000 Gentiles the second. What was Jesus very first miracle in Mark? He exorcised a demon in the synagogue in Galilee (Mark 1:21-28). After that crowds of sick Jews were put before Jesus for him to heal. What was the first miracle Jesus did on Gentile soil? He exorcised a demon (Mark 5:1-20). After that crowds of sick Gentiles were put before Jesus for him to heal. By the way, I give Witherington credit for bringing most of this to my attention.

But here is what the commentators miss. The disciples on the sea were afraid and Jesus pointed to faith. The crowds that came to see the healed many named “formerly possessed by Legion” were afraid and Jesus didn’t point to faith. How could he? They didn’t have the Torah, prophets, etc. What did Jesus do? He told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you.” N.T. Wright points out that this man was the first apostle to the Gentiles rather than Paul (Mark for Everyone, 57). Instead of pointing them toward faith, he pointed this freed man to teach them about the Lord and his mercy to build their faith. The two stories that follow also deal with faith.

Jairus’ daughter and a Sick Woman (5:21-43):
Jairus comes to Jesus with a bold statement of faith, “He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him.” (5:23-24). By the way verse 24 makes a great memory verse! Mark departs that story for a moment in one of his classic “Markan sandwiches”. He tells the story of the woman who had been bleeding 12 years who in faith touched Jesus clothes to be healed. Notice what happens next. Jesus asks who touched him. The woman comes forward, “trembling with fear, told the whole truth.” Notice Jesus’ response, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” (5:34). Fear – faith, fear – faith, fear – faith. We see it again in the completion of Jairus’ story. People came and said his daughter had died. At this Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (5:36). Jesus goes to his house, enters her room, and commands her to “get up.” Even though in the grave, her spirit obeys and she is raised from the dead.

Jesus’ words ring loud and true – Don’t be afraid. Just believe. Are you facing a storm? Why lack faith? Why be terrified if Jesus is in the boat. The message of these four stories is this – Jesus has the power to control what to us is uncontrollable. Because of that we need to put away our fears and believe.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Have you ever thought about the devastating effects fear can have on our lives? Fear of the unknown, of change, or even fear of what toys our children play with. If you can name it there is probably a way to be afraid of it. Just to give you a sample of how many different types of fears there are psychologists have labeled 58 known phobias or fears beginning with the letter “A” alone. A couple of interesting phobias include:

Alliumphobia – Fear of garlic

Consecotaleophobia – Fear of chopsticks

Pogonophobia – Fear of beards

[To see a more complete listing see here.]

Hopefully no one has all three of those or else a Chinese restaurant is not the place for you! The good news is that even though people fear many things, God has something to say to remind us that we have little to fear. In 1 John 4:18 we find this encouragement, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” In 1 Peter 5:17 Peter writes, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God is actively working to take away our fear and replace it with love that gives us courage and confidence. Throughout the book of Joshua the constant theme is to “be strong” and to “be courageous.” Why? Because God is the one who gives deliverance. Only God can give the victory. No matter what you are facing, if you trust in God, he is able to see you through to the other side. Cast it all on him because he cares for you! Fear binds but the love of God sets free. Fear paralyzes but God’s love energizes. Fear breaks down but the love God has for us builds up.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

Fear not!