Summary: Done as three monologues: fear compromises integrity, and a compromised integrity breeds more fear.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC July 13, 1986
Human beings are creatures plagued with fears and insecurities. That we have clearly established, that we talked about in certain ways last week. Of course we are a great deal more than that too. We are vastly more than a bundle of fears and neuroses and anxieties and insecurities. We are in fact motivated by so many feelings and so many drives that it defies the efforts of the best psychologists, the finest students of human nature, to get at what makes us tick. We are, in a word, complicated, complicated. Show me someone you think is just a simple soul, uncluttered and uncomplicated and I will show you that beneath that apparently simple exterior there remain motives and feelings, hopes and fears, too complex for words. We are complicated, all of us.
And so this business of fear is complicated too. What it is that we fear and how we react to it, how we choose to try to handle it, that too is complicated. Fear makes us make some very peculiar, complicated choices. And those complicated choices end up further complicating our lives. It's the old idea of a vicious circle, and put in simplest terms, my thesis this morning is this:
Because I am afraid, I compromise my integrity. And because I compromise my integrity, I become yet more afraid.
Try that again: because I fear, I choose to complicate my life by compromising my integrity, by letting the moral standards slip, by trying to manipulate the truth.
And when I do that; when I chip away at my integrity, then I become even more fearful, even more afraid. What a vicious circle! What can we learn about it?
There is a peculiar and fascinating and yet enlightening Biblical story that may help us on this issue. It's the story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, traveling through southern Canaan, and they stop for a while in the city of Gerar and encounter the king of that placed named Abimelech. Genesis 20 tells us of a set of transactions among Abraham and Abimelech and Sarah that just may help us get some handles on fear and integrity. Remember my thesis:
Because we fear, we compromise our integrity. But it backfires on us, it becomes a vicious circle, and integrity broken leads to a more terrible fear. Recall Sir Walter Scott, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we purpose to deceive.”
And note too what I am going to do after I have read the Biblical account: I am going to speak as if I were each of the three persons involved. I am going as best I can to play the parts of Abraham and, unlikely as it may seem, Sarah, and then of King Abimelech. You just change gears with me as I present each of these three characters and we’ll see if we cannot learn something about fear and integrity, integrity and fear.
I am Abraham. You know me as the patriarch of nations, you think of me as the example of faithfulness, you remember how God called me to leave the land of my father and to trek all across the desert to a new land. You know me, Abraham, because by now you have forgotten all the unpleasant things that happened in my life, you suppose that God uses only plaster saints whose unearthly perfection is never marred by any sins, any doubts, any faithlessness.
Well, I am the Abraham you have forgotten about. I might even suggest that you forgot about me because you see too much in me that reminds you of yourselves, and it’s unpleasant to confront that. Your reasoning is: if Abraham could slip and fall, then I might be vulnerable too. I too might mess up.
I must tell you today of the time I did mess up, I made a royal mess; and since it involved the King of Gerar, I guess it really was a royal mess.
You see, Sarah and I had been traveling with all this flock of family and servants and cattle and sheep for such a long while, and it seemed the longer we went the worse things got. Every place we went the people were rougher and cruder and more immoral than the last. We suffered through violence, theft, sexual deviants I cannot tell you about. Your – what is it? – your Meece Commission wouldn't let me. We went from place to place and found very little more than ruffians and scoundrels everywhere. Why, you know, the last place we stayed in before Gerar was a pair of little towns called Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah had invented perversions and wickedness we hadn't even thought of yet. And we saw the judgment of the Lord God rained down on those towns as fire and brimstone; that's how bad this whole country was.