3.11.08

Fear Factor

The role of fear in the Christian response to politics

by Otis Morgan, guest contributor

I was a 10 year-old, absent-mindedly winding my way up the hill through the dirty streets on the way home from the bus stop after school. The zig-zag path I took followed the surges of the empty beer can every time I kicked it, each kick relieving built up childhood anxieties in small satisfying spurts. As I rounded the corner and sent my can off on another flight, it caught a crosswind and landed in front of an open gate. Before I knew it, I was being rushed by a blur of teeth and spit and unrestrained barking. My neck stiffened and my eyes filled with heat as I impulsively ran rapidly in place facing the dog with my hands above my head squealing “Get Away!” The dog lurched back and forth at me, while we yelled at each other with equal insistence and determination. By the time the owner came out and called his dog back, I was feeling a stinging sensation in my left knee cap and was shaking uncontrollably, while the world spun around my head, out of focus through my hot, wet eyes.

The memory of the dog came back to me, decades later, as I sat in silence on my couch in the middle of the night, wondering why I was so wrapped up in anxiety that I was unable to sleep. I had lately been arguing repeatedly with my wife, and had made my daughter cry a few times as I snapped violently at her disobedience. I was tense and ashamed. I had just asked God why this was and the picture of the dog came into my mind. It wasn’t my 10-year-old self I was identifying with at that moment, but the dog. I realized that the dog’s eyes had been full of fear as his jaws snapped crazily at me, and it was fear as well that was motivating my own destructive behavior. But what was I fearing? I feared my daughter would grow up spoiled. I feared loss of work. I feared my wife would get sick of me. I feared depression. I feared meaninglessness. I feared I would never have victory over sin. Ultimately, I feared the loss of a sense of control.
But where did I get this idea that I was in control anyway. How absurd to think that I had any real say in the events of my life! This disconnect between perception and reality was tearing me up inside, and causing me to hurt the people I loved the most. The bottom line was that I was either a cosmic accident, or an all-powerful and all-loving deity was truly guarding and protecting me. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” slipped quietly back into my mind as I sat listening to the gentle hum of the refrigerator. My shoulders dropped ever so slightly and my breathing slowed as I resubmitted myself back to my shepherd.
These last few days before the election are rather tense for most of us. The whole world seems to be sitting on the edge of their seat as we all watch the most powerful nation of the world choose its leader. Bantering goes back and forth in every arena, as everyone seems to have their own idea of what really is important. I can’t help but notice, however, that as fear creeps into the discussion, violent words soon emerge. Republicans are afraid of terrorist attacks and socialism. Democrats are afraid of pissing off the Middle East and the graveyard spiral of a deregulated economy. Every cell that is fertilized by fear is being divided into two, both outside and inside Christian circles, and we find ourselves shamelessly yelling at each other like the boy and the dog.

But I have to ask: Should fear be a part of a Christian’s response to politics? Is there room for fear in the palm of the Almighty, or is fear actually the opposite of faith? Can we, as Christians, listen to each other without lashing out, cast our best vote on Tuesday, and be at peace with either outcome? After all, “The Lord is our shepherd, we need not want”

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