What are we afraid of?
Everyone likes to be safe from harm. But at what cost? Tonight and this weekend, the Australian Border Force will be patrolling Melbourne’s streets. Alongside other police organisations targeting anti-social behaviour, the ABF will conduct visa checks of individuals referred to them.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated that “the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets… the ABF does not target on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity”. However, news and social media sites erupted with concern, anger or mocking at how Australia’s leading Customs/Immigration force is now policing inside our borders.
Click here for the ongoing Twitter trend or read this story from The Age.
A rVictoria Police representative said this weekend’s “Operation Fortitude” was about the “responsibility to keep our community safe”. A responsibility officially shared by law enforcement agencies.
Climate of fear
But does that responsibility have to involve street patrols that ramp up a climate of fear? Does it help to defeat terrorism — or any other national threat — by encouraging people in Melbourne (and across Australia) to be more fearful of those around them? Can we be scared into becoming a safer, more united place, by being so fearful that we we embrace any measures to keep us secure?
It’s not hard to sense the fear factor rising sharply among Australians, when Border Force patrols are on the streets of a major capital city. As political and social viewpoints continue to battle on the subjects of terrorism, border security and public safety, it’s worth stopping to consider what God makes of all of this. What does God bring to a national discussion about security when fear is a prominent weapon?
On the subject of fear, God’s got plenty to say. And if we listen to his guidance, perhaps community safety would increase through our deeper understanding of what and how to fear.
1. Right fear
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His instructions have good insight. (Psalm 111:10. See also Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10)
This famous statement from the Old Testament books of Psalms and Proverbs tells us how to get smart through fear. While being frightened by increased Border Force presence might just lead us to a place of paranoia and despair, fearing the LORD (God) leads to knowing how best to live. In any situation. The fear of God refers to rightly understanding how huge, powerful and in control God is. Of everything. All the time. Knowing our place within His universe inspires in us an awe-filled fear — we are all tiny pieces of God’s cosmic creation — and should prompt us to follow His instructions. Doing so means we’ll have good insight. Good understanding of what to do, even if events around us are encouraging us to be more fearful of other things.
2. Wrong fear
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
As the first letter of John in the New Testament beautifully explains: God is love. (1 John 4:8) Wow. This was most clearly revealed by His son Jesus being sent to sacrifice his life for the forgiveness of humans sins. (4:7-11) Wow. Even more remarkable is those who confess Jesus is the Son of God — and all that that means — will remain within the perfect love of God. (4:15) Wow.
John writes that this perfect love banishes fear. The fear of God’s judgment against our sins. Yes, that fear is banished. Thanks to the all-consuming force of God’s perfect love in Jesus.
So, while we’re right to fear God AND give ourselves to His Son, anyone who does do that does not need to fear God’s judgment. Being reminded of that fact should help us to place Australia’s climate of everyday fear in its eternal perspective. If we are to no longer fear God’s judgment, should we fear threats to our community security? Or can our being able to live life in God’s perfect love fuel us with different reactions to social fears? Read on to find out…
3. Saved from fear
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)
What this statement from Psalm 34 is not saying is that God delivered David (who wrote the psalm) from all the things he feared. David wrote this psalm when he was hiding out from King Saul, who jealously wanted to kill his rival David. The psalm isn’t crediting God with saving David from every person or situation that he feared. Instead, David is declaring that his Lord God had responded to his cries and prayers, and had taken away the fear within him. Such a statement of confidence and security comes from one clear source — the power of God’s response and actions within David.
David’s celebration of how God helped him is also not saying that David no longer had anything to fear. As if there could be nothing ever for him to fear! He had plenty to fear and, this weekend in Melbourne and around Australia, plenty of us will be more fearful than we were 24 hours ago. Which is a fair response to have when we’re met with scary or threatening situations. But living in fear of those things (whether real or not) doesn’t have to be the final word.
The final word can go to the power of God, to save us from being gripped by the fears we have. But does that same freedom from fear’s impact apply to us, as it did to David?
4. Power, love and self-control
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit that God gives is his own Spirit. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth and wisdom that Jesus promised to send to believers in Him, from His Father. (see John 16:5-11) This Spirit, as the apostle Paul writes in his second letter to ministry mate Timothy, is not one of fear. Repeat: no fear found in the Spirit.
As Paul fires up Timothy to keep soldiering on as a Christian minister and witness, Paul makes the important point that fear isn’t in the DNA of the Holy Spirit. Instead, power, love and self-control are what the Spirit brings. Power, love and self-control being provided by God, through Jesus, to help Jesus’ followers deal with whatever is going on.
Rather than react with the kind of negative solutions that fear tends to bring with it, Christians can respond powerfully, lovingly and with self-control to important issues such as the Border Force patrols in Melbourne.
Fear is a fact of life. But the wrong sorts of fear do not have to determine, drive or dictate how we interact with each other. Thank God.