Are we safer today than yesterday? Are we on the road to greatness again? Have we finally found our place in a dangerous world, one of strength and security and self-determination? Can we now breathe a sigh of relief that regardless of what happens in the days and years ahead, at least we responded to the anger and despair of our own people? Or have we stepped closer to the abyss? Have we turned our back on unity and progress for a nation of division and oppression, suspicious of the other, protective of those like us and rewarding the haves at the expense of the have nots? Have we elevated personal choice, local options to such a level that there is nothing that unites us anymore and it’s every soul for themselves, some will make it and some won’t, and that’s just the way it is, let’s be real, shall we?
Well, maybe neither. Maybe something different. It probably won’t be as bad as some think, but it likely won’t be as good as others think. It what? The future. The glorious future of our great nation. Whenever there is a change of power there are both hopes and fears. That seems the way of things. And maybe focusing too much on hope sets us up for failure and disappointment. That seems to be the feeling of many who wanted a change. And the call for change seemed to be based on fear. Which is understandable to a degree, in the campaign. Fear is a powerful motivator. People will respond out of fear, will rise up out of fear, will demand change because of fear. The question is are we still being led by fear and those who would stoke our fears? Or is it time to find something else upon which to build tomorrow?
Ps. 27:1, 4-9 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ... 4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. 6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! 8 "Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, LORD, do I seek. 9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
The psalmist knows trouble. If this is David as some traditions have it, then he indeed knows trouble. Threatened by enemies and loved ones alike, loved and despised in turn, filled up with God’s presence and then seemingly abandoned by God because of his hubris, because of his arrogance and self-conceit. He knew what it was to fear. He knew what it was to want to hide. But David’s glory was that whenever he found himself in trouble he turned to repentance and humility. And then he sought redemption from the only source who could calm his fears.
It wasn’t his own strength, flexing his own muscles that brought him comfort. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Whom indeed? You want a list? Because I can find a list. There are plenty out there who will itemize the fears we need to embrace. It is the way of the world, it appears.
Exactly. The way of the world. And while we live in and embrace the world, we don’t live by the ways of the world. We are called to live differently. We are called to live confidently. Have you ever noticed that scripturally, the opposite of faith is not doubt? Doubt seems to be prevalent in the Bible. Doubt seems to coexist with faith rather well. Remember the prayer of the desperate father? “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Go look it up, Mark chapter nine. Jesus doesn’t chastize this poor man. Belief and unbelief often sit side by side. There are indications that belief without unbelief, without a measure of doubt, turns into a crusader’s arrogance, into the one who believes themselves incapable of error. A certain amount of doubt gives us the right amount of humility to really be an effective instrument of God’s grace in the world. Job, who had spent about thirty seven chapters convinced he was right, and that someone - namely God - had messed up and needed to fix all this mess real quick, falls to his face when God does show up and says I didn’t know what I was talking about! I spoke above myself, of things I didn’t really understand. And God blessed him in that doubt, in that uncertainty.
No, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It is fear. Throughout the bible the call is to not fear. Angels said it every time they showed up. God proclaimed it. Jesus lived it. Paul theologized about it. John put it on a bumper sticker for us to cling to when things got shaky. Perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love. The love that comes from Christ. Casts out fear. There is no room for fear when we are filled with love.
You can’t get rid of fear with wisdom. You can’t argue people out of fear. You don’t show up at your child’s door in the middle of the night and say, now Billy, you know there are no such things as monsters under your bed. This being afraid in the middle of the night is simply illogical. Think about it, Billy. No, that won’t work, and it sounds odd for a parent to do. Instead we step in, rush in and gather little Billy up in our arms and hold him close and remind him that he is loved. Powerfully, completely, unconditionally loved. That’s how you handle fear.
The psalmist says the same thing in a different way. Seek shelter in the tent of the Lord, he says. Hide in God and be lifted up, above our fears, stable on that rock. Then, we’re told, worship with joy. Shouts of joy. Not sitting in the pew while the worship show goes on, but shouting with joy while we make sacrifices. Sacrifice? Animals? No, not any more. The blood has been spilt already. Instead let’s sacrifice our pride, let’s sacrifice our propriety, our stiffness, our standoffishness. Let’s sacrifice our “you first” attitude and offer a hand to someone else, someone not like us. Let’s act like we really have nothing to fear, but fear itself.
So, you’re thinking, ok, I like the sound of that. That living without fear kind of thing. But how? I mean, I heard the speech. There are lots of things to fear. Our world is falling apart. Making fear choices seem to be the smarter way to go these days. Acting out of fear seems the logical response. So, how do we get to where we can live without fear?
The psalmist is right there with you. Needs a little pep talk to get to where his theology tells him he needs to be, even if his guts won’t let him. Luckily, he slipped his little inner dialog right into the psalm. “‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek His face.’” You want to over come fear? Seek God’s face. Seriously. This isn’t just a cliche to make you feel better. It is a program for ridding yourself and the world of fear. Seek God’s face. Set yourself the task of looking for God. At work in the world. We claim to believe God is at work among us, we claim to believe God is at work within us. So, look. Look for God’s face in the face of the stranger serving you your lunch, working on your car, asking for a hand out. Look for God’s face in the gestures of kindness in this terrible world. In the opportunities to laugh and to sing. In the moments of grace with loved ones, in the passion of body and soul. Seek God’s face in the beauty of music, in the wonder of the world around you. You’re on a mission. And if you fill up your life with the search for God you won’t have time to fear. Let me see your face, O God, my light and my salvation!