There is a question I cannot get out of my mind. I have been thinking…
The most frequent command Jesus speaks in the Gospels is Do not fear.
Why do you think that is?
While you are thinking, let me tell you something about bears.
Last October, I went to Glacier National Park for a week of solitude and prayer. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been. It is remote, which means the wildlife run the show even more than in most national parks. They are everywhere. Especially bears. Grizzly Bears. I did my research ahead of time to prepare and came ready with bear spray and everything I needed for a successful fear-free trip to Glacier National Park.
Then I got to the first trailhead and I read this sign:
You are entering a wilderness area and must accept certain dangers…
…including snow, steep terrain, water, and wildlife. There is no guarantee of your safety…
I am coming with my bear spray and my COVID-19 beard – if I encounter wildlife I cannot guarantee their safety!
I felt alive, ready to walk into the wilderness, experience the rawness of God’s creation. Then I started reading the section on bears:
Bears have injured and killed visitors and may attack – without warning – for no apparent reason.
I read it again. Without warning. For no apparent reason. But, I think to myself, that is why I have bear spray. So I read the section on bear spray.
Only use bear spray as a last resort. Bear spray may further provoke bears and invite further attack.
At this point it’s clear – I shouldn’t be here! What was I thinking? I can be attacked – without warning – for no reason – and my weapons are useless!
OK, by now you have had enough time to decide – Why do you think Jesus’ most frequent command is Do not fear?
Still not enough time to decide? Let me distract you with something explosive.
The most frequent statement I have heard from Christians during this pandemic is ”We need to stop living in fear.” That tracks with Jesus’ most frequent command, so why have I struggled with that statement?
One reason is probably because I am the guy who reads the national park warning signs. No one else stopped to read the sign. While I read the sign planning scenarios of where to spray a bear for maximum life-saving effectiveness, dozens of people walked right past that sign, laughing and enjoying their day, unlike me. Yes, that is one reason.
But there is another reason I recoil at that statement. COVID-19 means something very different for each person, depending on your life circumstances. What you might fear will be very different from someone else.
One of my children has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, which means we quite rightly fear what COVID-19 would mean for his body. The treatment for Duchenne means his immune system is much weaker than the average person. Will it be strong enough to fight COVID-19? Duchenne means his heart and lung strength is much weaker than the average person. Will COVID-19 do lasting damage to his heart and lungs?
When someone says to me – We need to stop living in fear – I am surprised how often that has been said without curiosity. I am surprised how few people have asked me what my fears might be, without understanding what my role as father and protector might call me to, without seeking to understand the wrestlings of my heart. Am I living in fear, or being a good father?
After all, when you encounter a bear and all you have is bear spray (which apparently only further angers the bear) the proper response is fear.
Ok, surely, by now you have an answer. Why do you think Jesus repeats, again and again, Do not fear…Do not be afraid?
Here’s my answer: He knows we are afraid.
We live in a wild world where anything can attack – without warning – for no apparent reason. A diagnosis (even to a child). An accident. A death. Jesus knows this, which makes the Gospel even more incredible, for Jesus does not shout at us from heaven, Stop being afraid!
No. He comes looking for us. Jesus climbs down from His heavenly throne, exchanges His royal robes for the clothes of a carpenter, exchanges His crown of gold for a crown of thorns. He meets us where we are, in our questions, our frustrations, our pain, our fears. His command to us Do not be afraid comes with deep knowledge of who we are, what we fear, and a commitment to save us that cost Him His life.
Jesus knows you are afraid. That is why He came looking for you.