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Opinion & Analysis

Nothing else to fear

By Ewen Maclean

Facing fear
A telling photo that speaks into our current circumstances, are the rows and rows of passenger jets parked up as if in the plane equivalent of a giant car park.

Ordinarily, they would not be sitting on the tarmac but would be up in the sky taking passengers to business meetings, on holiday and to visit relatives and friends. These days will return, but for now we live in a world that we could not have imagined a few weeks ago.

While for many of us this essential lockdown is an inconvenience and a bore, only a couple of days ago I became aware how distressing the present situation is for many children.

They are no longer able to visit their grandparents in case they give them the virus, mum and dad work from home in case they catch the virus and so it appears that out there, there is danger, they are not able to go out in case they catch it.

These fears are then compounded by the news that the death rate is rising and doctors and nurses and young people are also dying.

But you don’t just have to be a kid to be alarmed. We are all concerned; we too have fears about family, friends, finances and fitness.

All of a sudden our well ordered lives have been disrupted, and perhaps for the first time ever we have to face the reality that medical science might not have all the answers exactly when we need them. However, the point of this article is not to add to the 24/7 commentary already available on Newsfeeds and Social Media.

Rather it will seek to address the concerns that arise as we face this uncertainty. Now, the slightest common cold type symptom causes panic in case it turns out to be something more serious.

Addressing fear
The Christian message does not play on our fears, but it does address them. The Old Testament informs us the “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

While Jesus encouraged his followers with the words; “fear not little flock.” It was not the case that Jesus walked around, haplessly begging people to follow Him. Often, He presented His listeners with a challenge as much as an invitation.

To the dismay of the disciples, Jesus allowed the rich, young ruler to go his own way. Also, Jesus was often engaged in heated discussions with the religious leaders of the day as He fearlessly accused them of misleading the people and being totally false.

Necessary fear
Not that all fear is bad, in reality it is an important, even essential human response. It is an emotion that arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional or psychological, real or imagined.

While often thought of as a “negative” emotion, fear actually serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.

While no one wants to feel scared, it may often preserve us from harm.

Conquering Fear
The New Testament or gospel message assures us that overcoming fear is not mind over matter; it is the knowledge that death need not be feared because it has been conquered.

A case study that can help us face the current alarm with confidence is the experience of the thief who faced execution at the same time as Jesus. No film depiction and no written account can ever represent the atmosphere at Golgotha.

On the face of it there was nothing in the scene that would allay the thief’s fears. All he could hear were the voices of people mocking Jesus, he also heard Jesus cry out in what must have sounded like despair, “My God, why have you forsaken me.”

But he did also hear Jesus pray for the elite squad of Roman soldiers who hammered the nails into his hands, “Father forgive them…..” All the thief could see was the carnage of an execution site. Lots of fear, lots of pain, lots of tension.

But importantly, through it all he began to see his own need. As a thief he had been in a lot of scrapes, this streetwise charlatan had often evaded capture. Today there was no escape, but as life ebbed and hope faded He asked Jesus to “remember him, when He came into his kingdom.”

That request, that prayer could only be met by One who would overcome death and come back to life. By rising from the dead, Jesus meets a need that is common to all humanity and completely transforms death for those who trust in Him. While death firmly shuts the door on this life, it opens another to eternal life.

As the Christian author Oswald Chambers wrote; “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else.” That was surprising experience of the thief as he reached the end of his life on earth.

Reverend Ewen Maclean is the minister of St Andrew's Church of Scotland.