By Robert Drake
Fear excites us. It gets us going. Our brains and our bodies are wired to react to fear. It’s part of the reason we survived as a species. Look! It’s a bear! Run!
But fear can also become a potent tool of manipulation.
During this intense period of public debate about gun control and school shootings, we must recognize when someone is pressing all the right emotional buttons to incite the primal reaction of fear in our brain and body.
We are wired for survival. Fight or flight is a real and unavoidable part of our human existence. It is very difficult to override our instinct to survive.
That’s why I think sin can be partly defined by examining our instinct to survive. The reason the rich, young ruler in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:18-27) walks away from Jesus is not because he is too arrogant in his wealth to follow Jesus. Rather, it is because he believes his survival depends on the food, clothing, and shelter that his wealth affords him. We can even go one step further and say that the young man believes his survival depends on the high social status purchased by his wealth.
It comes down to survival.
But do not condemn the rich, young ruler because he is arrogant in wealth! Condemn him because he is arrogant in survival.
But wait! How can I condemn our urge to survive?
I’m not. I am not condemning our desire to live to see another day. If I were, I would go out and sell everything I own, stand on a street corner, and preach about the love of Jesus Christ. None of which you will ever see me do.
What I am condemning is the role fear plays in our natural instinct to survive when that instinct is manipulated for political gain.
To be very clear, fear is indispensable and unavoidable in situations of extreme violence, such as a battlefield, an immigration camp, or a high school in Parkland, Florida. Soldiers, migrants, and children need fear in these situations.
But we do not need fear in our political life. We need civil dialogue, rational investigation, and selfless consideration. We need to reach into our own souls and trust that even if something makes no sense in this world, it makes sense in God’s world. We need to look beyond ourselves and see how the teachings of Jesus Christ might guide us through the difficult debates that will occur throughout 2018 and into 2020.
As we do, as we go through these tough political times, I urge us to remember what Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1957 in a sermon on non-violence: “...we believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means.”
What he means is that violence begets violence.
I am not arguing against the employment of violence. We live in the natural world and we must abide by the rules of the natural world. We live in physical bodies, and those bodies succumb to death and destruction. Sometimes we must resort to violence. I am a realist when it comes to that.
But, we must remember that the violence we perpetrate returns to us as violence. This is true because we live in a spiritual world and we must abide by the rules of the spiritual world. We live in spiritual bodies, and those bodies succumb to emotional sensitivity and psychological trauma.
During this intense period of public debate about gun control and school shootings, we must recognize when someone is manipulating the natural tension between our physical lives and our spiritual lives. Fear lives in this tension.
[Editor’s note: Robert Drake is pastor of the Moorhead Presbyterian Church]
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