Whom Shall I Fear?

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? (Psalm 27:1)

There’s way too much fear in the land, and ironically, a good deal of it seems to be concentrated among folk who think of themselves as people of faith.

It may be that a certain kind of fearful temperament drives some people to both a panicky politics and a reassuring religion. That might make sense of the otherwise puzzling fact that a large number of American Christians are zealous to keep refugees out of the country, lock people up for decades over relatively small crimes, cut back on public assistance for others in need, and pull the plug on subsidies that help millions get health insurance who could not otherwise afford it.

Maybe they’ve never read Matthew 25. That, of course, is the chapter where Jesus says, come Judgment Day, the fork in the road that separates those who go to heaven from those who go the other way will depend on whether or not it’s true that “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus puts himself in the place of all who are in need, and he says the way we treat them is the way we treat him. In the end, what we did or didn’t do will be a simple matter of fact, and we can be reasonably sure that Jesus deals only in real facts, not some kind of alternative facts.

Fear drives so much of what people do or fail to do. We might understand a fundamental fearfulness among those who have no real faith in God. For them, a Darwinian competition for survival might dictate clinging to what they have without trying to see that others have what they need too. But for Christians, who claim to believe that God is good, that the Lord is the stronghold of our lives, and that this same Lord expects us to care for other people, it’s hard to see how faith has much impact when they fail to look out for their neighbors—especially since Jesus has such an expansive view of the neighborhood.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” That’s how the psalm ends that begins by asking of whom we should be afraid. For Christians, the only one we have any reason to fear, ultimately, is the one for whom we wait: Jesus Christ himself. And Jesus gives us rather clear instructions about the kinds of things we ought to be doing while we wait for his return.

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