Don’t be afraid

We’re all afraid of something.

Last month, after hearing the thunderous rev of a Harley Davidson engine outside his house, my two-year-old nephew turned to his grandparents and declared, “Motorcykies scare me!” Loud noises, spiders, heights – all these can paralyze us with fear.

What about war? Although Canada has traditionally been known for its peacekeeping role on the world stage, fear of war seems to be slowly invading our national psyche. The growing number of deaths among Canadian soldiers and the country’s increasing military budget can fuel our worries.

Fear is a common and appropriate human reaction to danger. When we’re faced with life-threatening situations, adrenaline kicks in and our bodies get ready to fight or run.

But what if the danger isn’t real? Sometimes we create enemies where none exist. Sometimes we manufacture blame and hatred out of pure ignorance and greed. For example, many doubt that Canada was truly in danger of being infiltrated by Japanese spies during World War II, even though the government deemed it necessary to create Japanese Canadian internment camps in interior B.C. And today, debate continues over the existence of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.”

Does war make us afraid or do our perceived fears drive us to conflict?

In 1961, American Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear that men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves…They cannot trust anything because they have ceased to believe in God.”

Messages of fear and mistrust abound in our society. Media tells us that Iraq is the enemy. Osama bin Laden is the enemy. America is the enemy. Western corporations are the enemies. A recent CNN documentary entitled “God’s Warriors” revealed that many Jewish, Muslims, and Christian leaders demonize Western society and believe that North American culture endangers faith. We’re told to trust nothing and no one – that the only sure way to protect ourselves is through pre-emptive force.

But the Bible has a wildly different message for us. Do not be afraid. This phrase appears 65 times in Scripture and is much more than a Hallmark card slogan. Paul Schrag, editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, says “Jesus knew we need to cast fear out of our hearts because it has disastrous results” (Aug. 21, 2006). Fear is deadly.

The key to understanding the Anabaptist peace position is to acknowledge that fear – whether real or perceived – underlies all forms of violence and war. As followers of Christ, we’re called to respond to our fear in constructive, not harmful, ways. Psychologists call this social response “tend-and-befriend.” Jennifer Freyd, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, says, “Acts of caring and compassion and unity can help us. Psychologists studying tend-and-befriend responses have suggested that there is a physiological basis for this response as well. It is clearly better suited for many threat situations.” Rather than running away or fighting, we can turn our fears into courageous acts of love.

When we learn to trust God and our fellow human beings more fully, peace will be easier to achieve. Do not be afraid. May we all take Jesus’ words to heart and become more effective peacemakers.

 

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