Summary: Fear is never God’s will for His people. But how can we avoid it?
It’s now been a week and a half since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and all over America, life is returning to normal – even as we realize that our definition of "normal" will have to change. The airlines are flying again, even if the planes aren’t very full. The stock market is operating again, even though it was down quite a bit this week. Football and baseball are back on television, as are Letterman and Leno. But despite the resumption of our daily routines, we know that things will never really be the same again – either for our country, or for us. It’s going to take a while before we fully understand what all of this means, for America and for us as citizens. But one thing that seems obvious already is that we’re going to have to become more vigilant as a nation; more watchful, more aware of the dangers that face us, so that we can be better prepared to protect and defend ourselves.
And that’s not a bad thing. The better we understand the reality of the world we live in, including its dangers, the more we’ll be able to make wise decisions about our safety, and the safety of our loved ones. There’s a common misconception that Christians are rubes and simpletons. But God doesn’t want us to be naïve. He doesn’t want us to just stick our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is OK when it’s not. In fact, when Jesus sent the Twelve disciples out to preach, he warned them,
"I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." – Matthew 10:16
In other words, he wanted them to understand the ways of the world, including the very real presence of evil in the world, yet without committing evil themselves. Jesus wanted them, and us, to be discerning, shrewd, alert, the kind of people who are not easily deceived or taken in. Which is completely consistent with the rest of the Bible. If you read Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, they’re entirely devoted to helping us understand how the world works – the good, the bad, and the ugly. God wants us to know that there’s evil in the world so that we can recognize it and avoid it. Yes, God wants us to be innocent – but not by being naïve or foolish. He wants us to be pure in heart and holy in our behavior, but at the same time to understand and guard against the evils around us.
This isn’t easy. Maintaining purity of heart while keeping our eyes open to the reality of evil in the world is difficult, even perilous. The first peril is that we will not only become aware of evil, but become fascinated by it, captivated by it. The risk is that we will deceive ourselves into thinking we need to get closer and closer to evil in order to fully understand it, until eventually, we get drawn in and become participants in the evil ourselves. What began as an attempt to quell our curiosity becomes an addiction, an obsession. We told ourselves that we were merely doing "research," trying to better understand the power that these sins have over other people. But instead, we end up corrupted and enslaved by those sins ourselves. That’s the first danger, and it’s very real. We have to resist the temptation to draw close to evil for the purpose of observing it, lest in the end we become ensnared by it.
But there’s another peril, which is what I want to focus on this morning. The other peril is not that we become involved in evil ourselves, but that we become fearful and anxious in the face of evil. The risk is that as we emerge from our blissful ignorance, as we begin to see all the dangers around us, we will start to focus on those things to an unhealthy degree. That we will become obsessed with trying to protect ourselves from every conceivable harm (which, of course, is impossible). And so the world becomes to us, not a place of peace and security, not a place where God is in control and watching over us, not a place where we can live confidently and freely as sons and daughters of the King; but instead, a dark and dangerous place with evil lurking around every corner.
This is what sometimes happens when someone who has lived a relatively sheltered and protected life experiences a significant loss, or some kind of harm comes to them. Suddenly, they become convinced that the world is nothing but a stinking cesspool of evil, filled with danger. And they become committed above all to protecting themselves, to making sure nothing like this can ever happen again. They become hard, and suspicious, and cynical. And that’s not what God wants either.