There are certain fears that we should respect. Fear of cliffs. Fear of snapping dogs. Fear of a person who is threatening to kill us. But when we fear whole groups of people—Blacks, Muslims, the homeless—then we no longer have a proper fear, but rather anxiety. We are fearful of that which we do not know will harm us.
Our most natural responses to fear is to either fight or run. But they are not the only responses possible for human beings. We might also discuss or argue, threaten or remain passive, we might listen and understand, we might control or establish peace. When we are authorities, we have even more options than others to that which we fear. We can order, we can encourage, we can bring in others to help us, we can meet needs.
I can’t tell people what to fear or not fear. I can’t tell people what they should be anxious about or not. But I do know from my own experience that I can control my fear and choose to be rational.
When I was a child I was attacked by a dog in front of my house. Since then, barking dogs set an immediate fear response in me. I can’t control the shot of fear that goes through my brain, but I can recognize in the second moment whether the dog is really a threat or not, and whether someone is handling their dog appropriately. One time I was out on a trail and an unleased dog was barking at me. I was wildly afraid of that dog, and the owners telling me that the dog was nice did nothing to ease my mind because the dog clearly did not like me. I had options. I could have kicked the dog. I could have yelled at the owners for their irresponsibility. I could have decided never to go out on that trail again. What I chose to do is to firmly ask the owners to keep their dog away from me, and to remind them that the dog should be on a leash.
If a dog is on my property and getting out of control, I have more options. I could say that no dogs are allowed on the property; I could just ignore the dogs and let them do what they want; or I can get with dog owners and establish a policy that works for everyone. Because that last was the peaceful solution, allowing ministry to be done for everyone, that’s what we did. We want to choose options that are best for everyone, despite our fears or anxieties.
As followers of Jesus, we should not allow our fears or anxieties control us. Rather, by the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, we should set aside our fears in order to live with everyone in love and peace. If we are directed by our fears, it will spell disaster for everyone.
Yesterday, I was in a crowded parking lot. An older lady was having trouble making a left turn and ended up having to back up and start again. Another lady was waiting for her to move, and when she saw the first lady back up, she became nervous and backed her car up as well, even though the first lady wasn’t going to get close to her vehicle. That’s no problem, of course, being overly cautious and taking care to avoid an accident that wasn’t going to happen, right? Well, it would have been fine, except that there was a group of three children walking behind the second vehicle, and the second lady was fearful enough of what was happening in front of her, that she didn’t notice the children that she was running into.
When we have power, like a car, we might think of ourselves as a weak, frail human being, but every movement we make affects others. If we are careless, or respond out of our own deep need or fears, we can harm the weak and the innocent. When we have power, every move we make is powerful. And if we use our power in response to fear, rather than a drive to act in peace for everyone around us, then we will be destroyers of peace, and destroyers of lives.
When we use power, we must seek the benefit of all, not just a few. And if we use power primarily for our own survival, or lifestyle or in response to our fears, then we can cause destruction to many. It doesn’t matter if that power is money or weapons or authority. We have a responsibility to everyone around us, especially those weaker than us, to use our power for peace, not our personal protection.