Fear and Love
Seventy-five years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt comforted a frightened nation in the depths of the Great Depression with an inaugural speech that began with a call to endure. He then added, “[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”(1) His words sought to address the very spirit of depression, the fear exuding from great uncertainty, the diminishing morale of a country racked with hunger and unemployment.
A very different speech from a very different character makes a similar observation about fearing fear itself. But adding to FDR’s admonition, Master Yoda from Stars Wars encourages his audience to answer this fear of fear itself with a philosophy of detachment. “Fear is the path to the Dark Side,” says Yoda to young Anakin. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”(2)
Among the many voices encouraging us to fear and act on our fears, these two voices of dissent are interesting. Roosevelt essentially asked a fearful nation to take account of the ways in which fear and pessimism can paralyze us. Fear is to be feared for this quality, he firmly believed. Yoda called for a far more defensive approach. The Jedi way encouraged the achievement of fearlessness by way of the refuge of detachment. Both thoughts bid us to ask questions about the nature of fear and its place in our lives.
Is there an alternative to the culture of fear around us? Is fearlessness the answer? What about detachment? Do we really do well to fear fear itself?
Certainly in the midst of our own economic discomfort and sense of worldwide anxieties, it is not an unhelpful suggestion to live aware of fear’s confining grip upon our lives. Paul of Tarsus, a voice speaking centuries before our own, warned not to allow certain thoughts to roam freely in our minds and in the stories we tell ourselves. He would likely include fear in this list, particularly those fears in the minds of those he sought to encourage that encroach upon the love and knowledge of God. One cannot live with a captivating fear of death where there is a vision of the resurrected Christ, he would argue, nor can one be held captive by a fear of losing control where there is certainty of a God who is near to the powerless and the brokenhearted, who is near despite one’s circumstances.
Yet while fear can indeed paralyze us from life itself, fearlessness can be a similar vice. As Yoda observes, true fearlessness would be attainable only through complete detachment to everything and everyone around us. If we loved nothing at all, we would have nothing to fear, but so we would be paralyzed from life in an entirely different way.
In this sense, we find that fear itself is often born out of love. The great love of a parent toward a child is the very thing that fuels the birth of great fears for this child. Likewise, we fear danger and uncertainty because they threaten the things we love most. Understanding the roots of our fears, we discover the one thing we do not have to fear is fear itself. Rather, perhaps our fears can serve to awaken us, to lead us into deeper knowledge, love, and relationship by tracing fear to the question or uncertainty that lingers behind it. Why am I so fearful of death? Why am I afraid of conflict? Why am I afraid to let people know me? Why am I afraid of feeling powerless? Fear, in this sense, taken off its lofty precipices of uncertainty and examined under a magnifying glass of truth can be a gift that compels us to wisdom, to greater love, even to God.
Years ago, on an evening when national uncertainty was elevated and my own sense of fear was foreboding, I overheard someone singing Amazing Grace, and it seems I heard these familiar words for the first time:
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
What we glimpse in these words is the first moment that the love of God bowls over a soul with love for God, when the grace of the Father moves a heart to fear nothing more than the thought of life without this love, this presence, this gift. This same love reminds us that God is not going anywhere and that nothing in life or death can ever change it. In this world of potential losses, deep cynicism, and fearful circumstances, might we find this perfect love in such a way that casts out lesser fears and draws us even nearer.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1933, full text available at http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres49.html.
(2) Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, written and directed by George Lucas (20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd., 1999) and Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith, 2005.
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