Our love-hate relationship with fear

Our hearts cry today for and with the people of Paris. pray-for-paris-1The effects of terrorism are not foreign to us. We still feel the anger and the grief from 9/11 acutely. Days like yesterday remind us of that. Because the impressions of September 11, 2001 are so deep, we have the ability to feel for our neighbors in France who are suffering in November of 2015. I would like to say that we feel the way we do today because we feel compassion and sadness when we see atrocities or injustices anywhere, but that’s not the case.

Terrorism, you know, doesn’t only occur when ISIS or al-Qaeda or Hamas or name-your-least-favorite-Islamic-terrorist-group plans an attack on Westerners. Terrorism has existed as a tactic of fighting to impact economic, military and religious power balances since some-ancient-somebody figured out you can effectively use fear to manipulate another person’s resources and/or decisions. While the media makes it hard to miss in certain instances these days, terrorism has been happening our whole lives. Heard of the KKK? Yeah, they’re terrorists, too. Remember Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City? Terrorist.

The whole point of terrorism is psychological warfare. Have you ever considered how far we are willing to go, when we are afraid of something, to protect ourselves from it – whether or not it really exists or is actually happening? Well, if you haven’t, please know that terrorists have. And what they understand about human responses to fear drives their strategic planning in whatever war they choose to wage.

I haven’t been on a plane since 2000. Want to take a guess why? My reaction is small potatoes. One person’s outcome. The effect of 9/11 on us as a nation? Immeasurable.

American culture is confusing. We encourage and indulge fear as evidenced by our love of horror movies as a means of entertaining ourselves. (Not me, by the way. I hate those.) One word: Halloween. We appear to love violence if you judge us by our entertainment appetites. We come across as not being afraid of violence or death. (Zombies DO scare us, apparently.) Consider the violence in schools, for instance, that we have witnessed just since Columbine. We fail to take seriously the gunmen or their social media manifestos and cult followers. We certainly don’t fear them. We just assume they’re crazy. And we hope there aren’t more of them out there. (There are, by the way.)

Terrorists resort to terror when the enemy cannot be engaged by traditional means. Controlling or harming the enemy through traumatic fear becomes the “best option” if war is to be fought.

So, if a) social media isn’t going away, which means, from now on, we are going to know all the way-out, incomprehensible things that happen on earth as soon as they happen, and if b) terrorists have always been and will remain a part of the landscape until all of creation is restored under Jesus, then what are we supposed to do? Hope to avoid terrorists and acts of terror? Just resign ourselves to being bullied by fear-mongers? Pretend it isn’t a real threat because we haven’t been personally hurt?

It’s probably safe to say that we continue to try all of those things. I think it’s important to remind each other that God DOES care about what is happening here. We pray for those families who have lost loved ones and for those who are injured when tragic events like yesterday’s terrorist attacks happen. It’s rightfully our first response.

For those of us who believe in prayer wholeheartedly, we pray believing that God will answer and be present for those who are hurting. We pray believing that God will intervene and good will come. We pray believing that, as we pray, God will transform US. We pray for peace, believing that the God who instructs us to “fear not” will actually build a faith in us that can move mountains. We pray for healing and restoration, believing that God’s love is the answer to all our suffering. Then, after all of that praying and believing, we walk out into a sometimes terrifying world and spread some perfect love, which, according to the God who loves us perfectly, casts out all fear.