By President Randall A. Bach
We learn much about ourselves when under duress or physical threat. Sometimes we learn about strengths we did not know we possessed until put to a test. At other times we discover responses that disappoint us as well as people around us. What causes some people to instantly respond like heroes in a life-threatening crisis while other people wilt under the same conditions?
I assume that many of those natural, impulsive responses defy intellectual analysis and understanding. There are instinctive reactions for which we are unknowingly prewired, without awareness, until called upon. We do not know how we will act in those situations until we are thrust into them.
There are probably many ways we respond to threats, but three stand out to me as frequently common, each of which leads to its own outcome:
Fear is a natural response to avoid danger. When I was a boy, I accidentally knocked a pot of boiling water from the stove. My arm and leg were scalded, and it took months to heal and grow new skin. I developed a healthy fear of hot items on the stove! Not all fear is bad! Fear of what could happen, of people, of threatening ideas, or of unknowns can, however, seize the heart and emotions and freeze the mind. Fear of what could happen can be debilitating. I had an aunt who was better off if she never watched the weather forecast on television. If she saw a tornado warning, even if was for three states away, she would not be able to go to sleep that night because of fear. Unhealthy fear is that which is fatalistic, assuming that the worst can and will happen. Such fearfulness is like a rebuke to God. If He can’t be trusted, then fear will be given freedom to rule – a miserable way of life. Living in fear is like having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5, NIV). Interestingly, the antidote for fear is not boldness. Rather, the antidote for fear is love: “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Living in fear is like living in a prison. Jesus wants to lead a jail break!
I suspect sneering has been encouraged by the Internet and by national leaders who model it as a response to fear. Many people belittle, make light of their fear, bluster, pretend to be impervious to any threat, put down anyone who disagrees, and they do so with a swagger they hope is convincing. Contemptuous and mocking responses to people and their ideas, even if those ideas are considered threatening, are not among options for Christians. Disdain and contempt are toxic to a Christian testimony. How wearying for the world to witness Christians throwing their weight around in such a misguided manner, diving into the mud of sneering, much of which is rooted in fear. Perhaps bullying and bravado will convince others that the person is actually strong and resolute? Actually, sneering is but fake strength. At Jesus’ crucifixion we read, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him” (Luke 23:35). Sneering is not what Jesus modeled! It was modeled by people who hated Him. By contrast, real strength consists of conveying respect as a loving ambassador of Jesus Christ.
Fear is self-defeating. Sneering is self-deluding. Grace is self-effacing. Only grace can liberate. Only grace can encourage. Only grace can empower. Only grace leads to peace, even in the face of threat.
The lyrics of one of the all-time great hymns of the church, “Amazing Grace,” include these words: “‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and Grace, my fears relieved.” How powerful! When we are enveloped by and immersed in God’s grace, then grace is what should strengthen and flow from us when we are threatened. Grace forms a foundation of depth, strength, humble confidence, trust and dependency upon the Lord, and peace. The Apostle Peter, writing under the anointing of the Holy Spirit to Jewish Christians who had been driven out of Jerusalem and scattered throughout Asia Minor, said, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5). In His response to Paul’s frustrations and desire to be freed from limitations, Jesus said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).
Fear is self-defeating. Sneering is self-deluding. Grace is self-effacing. Only grace can liberate. Only grace can encourage. Only grace can empower. Only grace leads to peace, even in the face of threat. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8, ESV).
Trusting God and practicing responding in grace rather than fearing or sneering on a daily basis will help us to learn and be equipped for major crises. We don’t have to submit to base and negative instincts. They can be redeemed!