Tag Archives: fear

If Christians believe in heaven, why do we still fear death?

Christians believe that when we die we will be resurrected with new bodies. But just like other people, we try to avoid it.

Change can be unnerving, and death is the ultimate unknown. We spend our entire lives investing ourselves in this world, assuming that our investment is meaningful. Death challenges that investment. It seems to deny the ultimate value of careers, possessions, friends, and families. Christians have to face this harsh reality just as much as unbelievers, and while faith in resurrection offers comfort, it isn’t easy to imagine how a future life can offer continuity with our investment in this one.

As human beings, resistance to death is physically and instinctively ingrained in us. Recently our family made the difficult decision to euthanize a pet terrier dying painfully of cancer. As I cuddled her in my arms, the veterinarian gave her an injection of anesthesia to relax her and put her to sleep in preparation for the fatal dose of barbiturate that would follow. She was afraid. She fought the drug’s relaxing effect, looking at me and making heart-rending sounds.

Deeply bonded with our little dog, I rocked her like a child until she gave in to the medication and fell asleep. It wasn’t easy. Knowing that life was departing from a little creature that was a cherished part of our family for nearly twenty years brought deep feelings of sadness and loss. Yet losing our little terrier, Effie, didn’t compare to the loss of parents and other human relatives we had experienced in recent years.

Humans easily overlook how much of our experience isn’t under rational control. Our emotional life (including our affection, joy, anger, and fear) is as influenced by instinct and hormones as by imagination and reason. The life within us, like that in our little terrier, reflexively seeks to avoid death. Our hopes and beliefs transcend death, but as physical creatures, we resist it.

Death reduces living bodies to physical objects—soon to become decaying corpses. It mocks relationships, personhood, and hopes (John 11:38–39). Facing the ugly physical and emotional reality of a close friend’s death, Jesus wept (John 11:32–25). The apostle Paul viewed death with such seriousness that he referred to it as the “last enemy” that the kingdom of Christ will overcome (1 Corinthians 15:25–26). Even when Christians approach death with faith and hope that has been reinforced by God’s faithfulness through a lifetime of experiences, facing such a hideous enemy is never just a dispassionate decision. It is a time for courage.

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Why do some church people seem so “phony?”

One answer is fear. Every church is comprised of ordinary human beings, but we often refuse to acknowledge our similarities to each other. We feel as though we ought to rise above our problems—especially temptations.

Yet so often we don’t. And so we regularly fake it for fear of what people will think. We fear that others might pull away from us if they knew the worst about us. This, of course, leads to hypocrisy.

While Jesus hates hypocrisy, he loves us. And so he told us: “Don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly … where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”[1] He also said, “When you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do.”[2] Jesus was warning us about religious people who valued how they looked more than they valued their relationship to God and to each other.

Can we get past the fear that isolates us and turns us into hypocrites? Yes, but it starts with dangerous honesty.

One of the remarkable things about the Bible is its honesty about its “heroes.” Noah got so drunk he passed out. Abraham was willing to let another man take his wife (twice!) until God intervened. Moses’ anger turned into murder. David had an affair with a married woman and then orchestrated her husband’s death in battle. Yet Hebrews 11 points to these individuals as heroes of the faith. They were ordinary people with big flaws and genuine faith.

The apostle Paul wrote openly about his struggles. “‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’” he wrote, “and I am the worst of them all.”[3] In another letter he admitted, “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”[4] This caused him to exclaim, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”[5]

Our faith should be public, but it shouldn’t look “religious.” We are called to be followers of Jesus, even though we won’t follow Him perfectly. And church, of all places, should be a safe environment where we can admit our imperfections, our struggles, our addictions, and our tendency to fail. In other words, it’s a place where we hypocrites can be honest—even about our hypocrisy.

This question Why do church people seem so fake? is rooted in a stereotype. Surely many church attenders are fake. But most of us realize we are on a spiritual journey that started when we turned to Jesus in faith. Our part is to admit our own hypocrisy, ask God to change us, and let our own example of honesty become part of the solution, not a perpetuation of the problem.

[1] Matthew 6:5

[2] Matthew 6:16

[3] 1 Timothy 1:15

[4] Romans 7:15

[5] Romans 7:24–25

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Is Fear Ever an Appropriate Motivation for Conversion?

When walking on the edge of a great chasm, perhaps hiking in the Grand Canyon, a healthy fear keeps us from getting too close to the edge or distracted by the scenery.

True, fear isn’t the only thing that keeps a Grand Canyon hiker on the trail. The trek offers the companionship of friends, gorgeous scenery, natural wonders, good exercise, and adventure. But a good hiker also has a healthy sense of danger.

According to Scripture, every member of the human race lives on the edge of a spiritual chasm much more terrible than the sheer cliffs of the Grand Canyon.

Just as natural laws of gravity dictate fear of a precipice, natural laws relating to the inevitable consequences of sin should cause us to fear the abyss that brings spiritual death. If we were in our right mind, awareness of sin and its consequences would be just as vivid as our awareness of the inevitability of gravity.

Tragically, because of our natural spiritual state, we aren’t in our right mind (Ephesians 2:1-3).

  • How else could people callously shed innocent blood, prey on the defenseless, and even on their deathbeds have a single-minded focus on wealth and power?
  • How else could people have such unquestioning confidence in the propaganda of the principalities and powers of this world that they sacrifice their children to demons of ideology and greed?
  • How else could people be contemptuous of monogamous couples, as though the submission of husbands and wives to their creaturely roles in procreation and parenting diminishes the meaningfulness of their love?

For these people a healthy, Spirit-given fear would probably be the first step towards conversion. Fear is closely related to awe. The person who is alive to the wonder of existence and the infinite significance and unending ramifications of every action is familiar with both fear and awe.

Although fear isn’t the only thing that keeps us close to the shepherd of our souls, it is important. The great hymn “Amazing Grace” resonates with the hearts of many generations because of its declaration that grace “taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.” The writer of Proverbs wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (1:7), and the Old Testament stresses the importance of a healthy fear of God (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:24-33; Ecclesiastes 12:13).

When we truly understand what we are and what we have done, we realize we deserve judgment. Fear will either trigger self-justification and rebellion or drive us to Christ.

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Is It Possible for a Believer To Be Overwhelmed with Fear and Despair? 

In spite of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah fell into deep despair (1 Kings 19:4).

After confidently proclaiming his faithfulness to Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35), Peter denied Him with curses and wept bitterly (Mark 14:66-72)

Paul “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and agonized over his helplessness when struggling against the “flesh” (Romans 7:18-24).

Though God accomplished great things through each of these people, as persons of faith they experienced their worlds spinning out of control.

These examples from the Bible make it clear that believers often face trials that are unexpected and have no discernable purpose. Trials like these overwhelm our efforts to understand and rationalize them. But these biblical examples of great people of faith illustrate that experiences of stress and despair can be times of greatest spiritual growth.

A story about the Victorian poet/hymn writer William Cowper illustrates how dramatically God’s grace can interact with our despair. Anyone knowing his history would understand why Cowper was given to long periods of depression. On one occasion, convinced he had committed the unpardonable sin, he left his home on a foggy London night and walked toward the Thames River, determined to commit suicide by drowning. As he walked, the fog grew thicker and he lost his way. After several hours of blind wandering, he found himself back at his doorstep. Astonished at God’s intervention, he wrote a poem that later became a beloved hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;

behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;

God is His own Interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Job’s story provides a framework for understanding the common elements of experiences that make believers feel they are abandoned in a hostile and meaningless world. God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1), just as our accuser tests the faith of everyone driven to despair. Every believer has a personal enemy, Satan, who consciously seeks to make him or her feel their faith is empty (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-12). But just as God set limits to what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12), He sets limits to what Satan can do to us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Luke 22:31-32). Even more importantly, if we are faithful the Creator is able to change our despairing experiences into good. God uses satanically induced despair to strengthen and refine us in our love for Him and each other.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).

 

 

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Is Richard Dawkins’ Claim That Religious Faith Is the Main Cause of Violence Correct?

One of Richard Dawkins’ recurring themes is that religious faith is the primary cause of violence around the world. Mr. Dawkins is right when he says that religious faith is often manipulated for terribly evil ends. Jesus said that too, and on that point Christians should be in agreement with Mr. Dawkins. Further, I’m sure that a case can be made that the greater the claims for truth and righteousness a group or person makes, the more revolting is their hypocrisy. Perhaps this is what makes religious hypocrisy especially repugnant. But religious hypocrisy isn’t the only kind of hypocrisy, and religious faith isn’t the only kind of faith implicated in violence.

Richard Dawkins points to violence around the world that is justified with religious rationalizations, and says that it is wrong for children to be given identities such as Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu at a young age that result in their distrust and hatred of others with different religious/faith identities.

His implication seems to be that someone (presumably people who agree with him, assisted by governmental power) should stop religious indoctrination of children. This raises the question: What will replace religious training of the young? Children are inevitably going to develop identities and will have to have some kind of faith, even if it isn’t “religious.”

Would it be better if faith in a particular form of religion and the people who represent it (Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, etc.) were replaced with faith in a “universal” ideology such as Communism, or faith in one’s people or nation (Judaism, nationalism, etc.)? Probably not. The ideologies of Communism and Fascist/nationalist movements were major contributors to the two World Wars and other major and minor wars of the past century.

What about faith in something that transcends religion, ideology, ethnicity, and nationalism? Can we trust the corporate/economic system (let’s call it “mammon”—the worship of material wealth) that is currently invading and reshaping the world, obliterating cultures, peoples, and traditions, and making the poor spiritually and materially poorer while granting a small elite hitherto unimaginable riches and power?1 Degraded “mammonite” culture is proliferating like a bacterial infection by means of the Internet, mass media, and actual military and political aggression. In fact, it seems apparent to many that one of the greatest forces for destruction and evil in the world today is misguided faith in the corporate/economic beast that is reshaping the world to suit its needs.

Faith in mammon doesn’t seem to be a good idea either. How about faith in science and reason?

Unfortunately, as the political and social leaders of the past 300 years have discovered, science and reason are tools that can be used for good or evil, but they aren’t adequate objects of faith.

What’s left as a basis for faith?

  • Religion (faith in God) is out.
  • Nationalism is out.
  • Ideology is out.
  • The corporate/capitalist system is out.

It looks like Mr. Dawkins would have to say that we need to have faith that atheists like him would indoctrinate children wisely if government gave them the power to do so.

If Mr. Dawkins had this kind of power, we would discover sooner rather than later that he and others sharing his perspective are really no more trustworthy than the religionists, ideologues, and nationalists who have caused humanity so much suffering and heartache.

The ultimate cause of violence in the world is not religion, nationalism, ideology (including atheism), or even mammon. The primary cause of violence is evil that is deeply embedded in human nature, an evil deadliest when undetected or ignored. Hearts unaware of their own wickedness corrupt faith of any kind into evil and violence.

  1. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9, Jesus personifies the Aramaic word for riches, making it the name for an idol/false god that people worship rather than the true God. Back To Article
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