“Halloween is Over” or “Be Not Afraid”
Halloween has come and gone.
The empty monster suits are on clearance. The fake blood and sugar comas are all deeply discounted. The spider webs and toilet paper trees are giving way to twinkling lights and colorful hanging globes because, you know, Christmas season starts October 31st at 11:59 PM. We are moving past this season of fear and moving into a season of love and joy and warm fireside cups of hot cocoa. Some of us like the feeling of being frightened, or watching horror movies, or traversing dark corn mazes while holding our children’s cotton-candy-coated sticky fingers (It’s so we don’t get lost). But really now, it’s November. It’s definitely time to put the fear away in it’s ominous black cardboard box until next year and focus on the love! It’s so great that life works that way, right? (WARNING: heavy sarcasm follows) The season of fear ends! We never let fear get out of control in our lives. It’s always safely compartmentalized and tucked away. Fear never influences our decisions, or bogs down process, or stunts our growth. Fear never treats us like oddly life-like hand puppets, giving impetus for how we move through the world… Right?
If you just read through this list of some of the things fear “isn’t” and are feeling slightly convicted, it just so happens that is a happy accident! See I wasn’t really talking about you, I was talking about me. I was talking about all the ways fear influences me, from the insidious refusal to admit weakness, to the overt and debilitating quagmire of doubt that occasionally envelopes me. When I read through the stories (just about all of them) of the Bible I see reflected back to me my own fearfulness. Every single hero of the Bible (with exception of the thick-headed ones like Samson – I feel like I pick on him a lot) openly struggles with fear, so I guess that means I’m in good company. I’m sure every person reading this can relate as well. Fear isn’t just a Halloween trick or a 90 minute slasher movie, but a constant drip in our lives. And I’m not talking about a coffee drip here, which would be wonderful, I’m talking about a much more nefarious sort of “drip torture that feels like drowning” kind of drip. Or maybe it’s a nagging, nipping little fly that becomes so much bigger, unavoidable, and un-squashable in our minds as it buzzes around our heads for the umpteenth time (Did anyone see any giant fly costumes this Halloween?).
God WANTS to be able to speak into our fear, to get beyond it so that he can change us, influence us, cause us to be more like him. The problem is that God is different than us, and doesn’t fit into our normal context. He looks strange and unearthly and dangerous, and he makes us afraid. Think back to all the times in the Bible where someone receives a heavenly visitor. What’s just about the first thing they always say? “Be not afraid.” Those words, or some iteration of them (do not be anxious, do not worry, etc), appear in the Bible more than any other repeated phrase. The most prominent command issued in those circumstances is one to put away fear, because fear is a bottle-neck for any future wisdom, knowledge, instruction, or implementation that God might have planned. Imagine you are Gideon, or Isaiah, or Mary, and you’ve just been confronted with a being or situation that is wholly other than what you know; a shining shimmering splendor that drops all the blood from your body and you fall down with a case of the shakes. Imagine that you, as Gideon or Isaiah or Mary, had been so afraid that you allowed the circumstances to close out all that was said after that initial appearance or comprehension. If fear rules you, a lot of stuff doesn’t happen. Altars to false gods don’t get torn down, people aren’t rescued, words of prophecy that have fueled the faith of billions are never written down, and a savior comes unannounced. Obviously God is bigger than our weaknesses, but this is why one of his first commands or encouragements in these situations is to put down fear.
That’s very easy to say, but when the reasons to fear are inexhaustible it can be so exceptionally difficult. How do we do this? Well, as American Christians subject to the whims of a calendar of events, we have already sequentially been provided the answer. On October 31st at 11:59 pm, Halloween gives way to Christmas and we begin a celebration of love. I John 4 talks about love. Starting in VERSE 7 (<click here) John spells it out for us. Read through it and then come back.
Love is God, God is Love. Love is giving your life for someone other than yourself. Love is not holding back for yourself. Love is not something we can experience apart from God. Love makes us more like Jesus, and PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR. The more in and of God we become, the less we fear until finally — eternally — the perfection of knowing God and living as Christ lived leaves no room for fear for our own selves, because we are found in God.
I have been afraid lately. I have been afraid that I’m not doing enough to get to Japan, or I’m doing the wrong things. I’ve been afraid that I’m relying on myself too much and at the same time relying on God too much. I am afraid that I am letting God down, and letting all of the wonderful people that support us down as well. Then I read through the I John passage and I realize I am afraid because I do not love like I ought to, because there is no fear in love. I think then that God is calling me to a deeper understanding of him. Maybe I have seen that shining shimmering splendor of God and been too afraid to hear the rest of what he has for me. If that’s true then I should know that just like in all the other Bible stories, God is saying to me “Don’t be afraid”. I wonder if you can you hear it too?