This is the second post in a series on overcoming fear with hope.
Hope overcomes fear. Holy Scripture teaches us this repeatedly, and it’s what I’m getting at in these next few posts.
Notice that I said that hope overcomes fear. Hope and fear are not mutually exclusive. They can and do wrestle with each other for ascendency in our hearts and minds.
Our constant exposure to the self-help industry may lead you to expect me to offer you a list of things to do in your life that will conquer fear or nurture the hope within in you. You will either be relieved or disappointed to hear that I’m not going there.
These posts belong to the helpless-self genre, not on the self-help shelves at Barnes and Noble.
Don’t get me wrong. There are spiritual disciplines that will help us to become increasingly hopeful people. Nevertheless, it’s important to see even these disciplines as ways of developing our relationship with our Maker and our Redeemer. He provides the help that we need.
A fruitful first step is to ask a question so obvious that we may fail to ask it at all. Why are we so susceptible to fear in the first place?
Evolutionary biologists, among others, would surely point out the survival benefits of fear. Hungry lions and raging fires frighten us precisely because they could kill us. Fear prevents us from being leonine catnip and human toast.
And yet this realistic response to obvious, impending danger is not what we’re talking about.
The fear that siphons the joy from our lives is like a pernicious computer virus that infects one experience after another. It’s not so much that we run from the hungry lion down the street. We stay up late at night wondering how sad we’ll be when some hungry lion eats the children we might have someday.
Why are we susceptible to worrying that we won’t have enough when we earn more than entire African villages and that our toddler may not marry the man of her dreams?
Our struggle with fear begins with the Big Lie. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent persuaded Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by telling the lie that remains lodged in our hearts to this day.
God is holding out on us.
Here’s how the serpent put it: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5)
To paraphrase: God has something really good that he doesn’t want us to have. In fact, there’s a lot of really great stuff out there that you’ll just have to get for yourself, because God isn’t going to lift a finger to get it for you.
You don’t have to read this story literally to see the startling truth that it tells. Making ourselves vulnerable to God’s generosity and care—counting on him, in other words—is easier said than done.
The Big Lie is that God is not reliable or that God does not genuinely care or that God is not capable. Leaning on him gets you nowhere, except perhaps for a brief period of mental anesthesia. You have to look out for yourself (and maybe a small circle of people that you really care about).
The first step away from fear and toward hope is to at least entertain the idea that you are the victim of a lie. The truth is that God is capable and reliable.
The next step is to recognize that how you feel about things and the truth are not the same thing. When fear presses in on us, reason becomes a silent backseat passenger, not even a backseat driver.
Simply repeating to ourselves that God will come through for us because he dearly wants to give us unfettered joy will not dissolve fear as if you had waved a magic wand.
Even if it works for a moment, it will be as if the liar who told us this whopper in the first place stops talking for a while. Eventually he emails or texts with a simple, toned-down message that undermines our confidence.
If we start responding, that same liar will be calling us in the middle of the night for interminable, anxiety-laden conversations before we know it.
Reminding ourselves that we’re dealing with a persistent lie and developing the habit of focusing on the truth no matter how we may happen to feel is a difficult but firm first step.
Over the next few posts we’ll examine this first step, look at some common missteps, and discuss how to take more steps toward hope and away from fear.