This spring I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of fear in our lives. One particular insight that has stayed with me is found in Adrian McFarlane’s text A Grammar of Fear and Evil (McFarlane, Adrian Anthony. A Grammar of Fear and Evil: A Husserlian-Wittgensteinian Hermeneutic. New York: P. Lang, 1996.). The section that has captured me reads (essentially) as follows:
We have three possible interpretive modes by which we might live our lives in the face of fear (or to live generally speaking):
1) To live in fear. McFarlane writes, “Life at this stage is almost automatic; one is driven by impulses rather than motivated by reason. Reason gives order to life whereas instinct simply gives it momentum…it can paralyze either one’s will or one’s reason. The one results in the total breakdown of hope, while the other slashes at everything in a self protecting-like rage. In either case, the result can be horrendous for society.” (91)
2) To live by fear. This manifests itself in obsessive behavior. It can also give rise to the “scapegoat theory” where the “obsessive personality internalizes its world, refashions it, and then projects it onto others.” (94) Here persons try to control people, events, things as a way by which to attempt to hide their deep insecurities.
Finally, the option is 3) To live with fear. This is where we live with courage in the midst of our fear with a sense of openness.
Scripture reminds us that “perfect love casts out fear.” Does this mean that fear (or other vestiges of our humanity and brokenness) disappear? I would argue that this is not the case; following Christ does not make us gods. Take Peter for instance…when he got out of the boat, were the waves no longer present? No, indeed they remained!
However, the presence of God’s love in the arms of Christ extended to Peter, allowed/propelled Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water. So does faith demand we pretend the waves aren’t there? Does religion inoculate us against being human? Shall we lead with our heads proverbially dug into the sand, crying, “Problem?! There ain’t no stinking problem?” No, for we are certain to drown…or perhaps, instead, our denial will cause us to start raging at the very Christ (or our neighbor) who stands with arms extended in the midst of the storm.
Shall we then instead become so obsessed with the waves and tumult, or our own histories that we refuse to see the love before us? May this not be the case, for then we shall start throwing things and people overboard, lest we become caught up in the storm and capsize.
Instead, may “the perfect love that drives out fear” fill our hearts and minds with the breath of life as we breath in love in the midst of the waves and storm. This is the place where we step out into the impossible; we get out of our boats and brave the deep waters of the sea. And that which is sure to kill and destroy us (as I, for one, am convinced that water can and will do!)…well, we find that its power is unable to destroy our very lives. This is the wonder of the miraculous– it reminds us that life persists, and it emboldens us with courage in the face of fear, in the face of our stories and our brokenness, in the face of the waves.
Here’s a link to my most recent sermon that was influenced by these reflections.