Fear. Where did it come from? The bible tells us it first appeared after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They hid themselves from God because they realized they were naked and they were afraid. When they told this to God, he knew immediately that they had eaten of the tree he warned them about. God never intended for them – or us – to be afraid.
Fear, once unleashed, motivated much of the human barbarism of history. Knowledge of our frailty, our nakedness if you will, makes us vulnerable to fear, and that fear drives bigotry, injustice, selfishness, and savagery. It’s fear of the unknown that gives rise to bias, suspicion, mistrust, and persecution of those who are different from us. It’s fear of not having enough that tempts us to greed, materialism, envy and dishonesty. It’s fear of harm that might come to ourselves or our loved ones that motivates us to “do unto others before they can do unto us.” Fear brings out the worst in us.
Fear is the weapon of terrorists and tyrants. The most powerful instrument of manipulation known to humankind, despots have used fear to subjugate and control whole nations, to coerce otherwise decent people into doing unspeakable evil, and to intimidate dissent.
Fear is used to sell everything from simple insurance policies to arsenals of firearms, from cyber safes to bunkers. Fear drives news trends, political campaigns, and fluctuations in the stock market. Fear is to be feared.
Fear is not to be confused with risk, however. Fear is a feeling; risk is a measurable reality. Fear that is out of proportion to genuine risk can become neurotic or even psychotic. Paranoia is fear run amuck. The rapidity with which news spreads in our digital age enables us to hear of brutality anywhere in the world instantly, sometimes streamed live as it occurs. Digital media, furthermore, is programmed to “promote” whatever news is “trending,” i.e., pushing to the front of the news queue what more people are responding to with clicks, comments, “shares,” etc. The more frightening something is, the more we want to look at it – it’s human nature. The fact that something is in the news constantly doesn’t mean it is happening more than things that rarely appear in the headlines; it means only that it is more interesting to the average news surfer.
Fear is more and more prevalent in our world, and we may be carried away by it if we don’t remain vigilant to its power, stop to assess real risk, and look for just and peaceful solutions to fear-producing issues. We need to think carefully before jumping on the fear bandwagon and letting it carry us where it will. Most of all, we need to question the motives of those who tell us to be afraid and then tell us that only they can remove the risk and alleviate our fear.
God tells us repeatedly in scripture not to be afraid. For a few examples, see Joshua 1:9, Psalm 23:4, Luke 12:25, John 14:27, Romans 8:15, and 2Timothy 1:7.