Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fear Not... Always?

My dog, Ruthy, is a golden retriever who, not surprisingly, likes to retrieve things. This is charming until the retrieved item doesn't get returned and it happens to be something like your second set of running shoes and you're down to two left feet or date-night shoes for the daily power walk. That's where I found myself this morning. Two left shoes and a these kind-of-hurt-my-feet-but-are-simply-too-cute-to-throw-out pair of pink and gray fabric flats. Without a good option, I started rooting through the boys' shoe bin. Just so happens, Colin has a newish pair of comfy-looking black tennis shoes that are just my size. So I slipped those buggers on my feet and off Ruthy and I dashed for our morning sniff-about. About a quarter of a mile into the walk, however, I realized that my feet were killing me. You see, my son's cushy-looking shoes have these big metal shoelace holes that kind of dig into the top of your feet. The appearance of roomy comfort was merely an illusion. After two miles, I felt like a little bound-foot Geisha. This catapulted me to things spiritual.

Do You Really Know How Those Shoes Feel?

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (NET Bible)

I saw recently where someone used 2 Timothy 1:7 to encourage group participation in something at the peak of the swine flu scare. This reminded me of the many times I've heard good-intentioned Christians blast the suffering with this same "God did not give us a Spirit of fear..." admonition. To what end? Like this is going to make someone suddenly drop whatever the fear is like a pan that's about to host a grease fire? I have never, ever heard anyone who's suffering say "Oh, gee, that makes be feel a whole lot better." Quite the contrary, it usually makes whoever is anxious all the more fretful because now the fear is wedded to in-their-face aspects of weakness and sin.

Have You Tried Those Shoes?

I have a dear friend who gets violently sick when she passes accident scenes on the highway. For me, it's relationship stuff that makes me ill. If you tell me about how your little heart has been broken, a piece of my heart will break with you. This sensitivity has allowed me, in my own mind, to feel as if I really know what you're going through. But just like I didn't know my son's shoes were foot crushers until I walked in them, I can't necessarily understand what you're feeling unless I, too, have been there. I can give you, hopefully, counsel based upon Scripture. But I can't begin to really get your situation or feel your pain until I have lived it. So, I need to be careful using verses like 2 Timothy 1:7 to counsel the anxious or the suffering, especially if I'm not able to authentically empathize.

Some Context

The apostle Paul is the author of 2 Timothy. It's an epistle or letter from Paul to his "apostolic representative" (NIV Study Bible) or younger assistant who's been tasked with a special ministry to the church of Ephesus on Paul's behalf as he languishes in prison. In the NIV translation as well as many others the word "fear" is replaced with the word "timidity." Other references to Timothy in Scripture (1 Cor 15:10-11; 1 Ti 4:12) suggest he is both young and, perhaps, lacking in some degree of confidence. So Paul writes verse 7 to remind him of the power He has in God (2 Ti 1-8:). Some translations also capitalize the "S" in "spirit" while others feature a lowercase letter. (I just spent 10 minutes trying to explain why this is significant, but my post-semester brain is not cooperating... if you re-read it, you'll see!)

What this verse doesn't say, is that fear is an unnatural human emotion. Some fear in this fallen world is in fact a good thing. I might think the giant fuzzy panda at the zoo looks cute and cuddly, but my fear keeps me from hopping the fence and trying to give it a hug. Beyond the obvious health consequences of drugs and alcohol, it's the let down of inhibitions and protective fears which lead to risky, harmful behaviors.

So, you might say, yeah, but we're supposed to trust God and if we really trust God, we won't have any fear. I'm inclined to say that so long as I have the inheritance of Adam, I will always have some degree of fear over something. It's the post-Garden funk of our broken humanity.

The Remedy

When I confront situations that are fearful, I am reminded to pray. I recognize my frail status apart from God and turn to Him for rescue. And I don't imagine for a second that in this vulnerable moment that God is saying tsk tsk and registering divine disgust over my fear. Quite the contrary, I believe He is probably happy that I phoned home.

Pic by Jacob Earl; click here for restrictions.

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