Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fear, control, and some words from a man named Jim

The human antidote for fear is control.
- Jim Mars (Valley Evangelical Free Church, October 31, 2010)

Considering the title of this week's blod, you can imagine my surprise when our guest preacher spoke these words last Sunday. As I jotted them down I wondered how he knew I'd been planning to write this week on the topics of fear, control & submission. And then I realized he didn't, and that I needed to watch fewer spy movies.

Still, I was amazed at the perfect meshing of topics, and at how God can so beautifully orchestrate for His glory the lives of people who've never even met.

Here's something to think about: I believe the root of evil is fear.

By this I do not mean that the source of evil is fear. The ultimate source of evil is Satan.

What I do mean is that the primary reason we humans act in evil ways (defined as consciously causing harm or acting in intentional rebellion) is fear.

I came to this conclusion for several reasons.

First, I looked around. I noticed that, yeah, sometimes people are just grumpy. But almost all the people I saw who were behaving in mean, nasty, abrasive or volatile ways were frightened people. I noticed it first when I worked for a mortgage broker. With mortgages you're dealing with very big money and very serious consequences when things fall through. The bigger the risk people faced, the less patient, kind or understanding they became.

I continue to notice it today. Granted, some folks have the annoying gift of being able to turn the most insignificant bump into an infuriating mountain and then scream crazy things at it. But for the most part, people are quite civil until the stakes of success or failure reach a level of real significance. It seems very few of us have the faith or maturity to walk in the way of Christ when the potential price gets high enough.

Next I looked inside. As I recognized this tendency in others I began to see it very clearly in myself. Fear makes me edgy, unkind. In the absence of fear I'm peaceful and sweet as honey.

Finally, I thought about what Jesus said about the source of evil. At the time, I still believed Jesus taught that "money is the root of all evil," but now I know He didn't. What He said was "money is the root of all kinds of evil." The old translations didn't get it quite right. But still, that's quite a statement.

So I pondered: Did Jesus mean that the physical objects we call "money" (coins, bills, credit cards) were some kind of innate evil presence emanating a ghoulish influence? Did he mean that money just sitting on a table or buried in the ground is evil in and of itself? I think not. It seems to me (and the context of that passage is important) that He meant money in a specific situation - i.e., money in human control. That is, it's not the money itself that is evil, but the kinds of feelings and actions it can create in people.

But that leads to another question: Is it really the coins that create those evil tendencies - or is it what the coins represent: power, influence, security, comfort, etc? If it is what they represent, then it's really the deep desire for those things that causes the evil of which Jesus spoke.

And (stay with me here...), what is the common source of desire for those things? I say it's fear. You want power because you fear weakness. You want influence because you fear insignificance. You want security because you fear torment. You want comfort because you fear pain.

Although it's kind of long for my normal blod offering, I want to include a passage from a book called The Trifling Adventures of Grover Rodriguez, because it illustrates so nicely what I'm talking about here. I pick up in the middle of a conversation about the nature of evil between two college sweethearts sitting on a hill under a romantic full moon. She wants to debate. He has other ideas.

"So you believe that evil exists, right?"

"Of course," I replied, already ready to move on.

"Then what do you think the cause of evil is?"

"I don't know. I've never thought about it, but isn't it different in every situation?"

"I think it's fear," she whispered, ignoring me. "I've thought about it a lot since that thing with my mom. People are only harmful if they're scared of something."

I sat back now, and she put her hand back in her lap.

"Fear? Really? You think so?" I didn't know if I was bored or curious.

"Definitely." She moved into professor mode. "Give me some situations in which you think evil is involved."

"All right. Bigotry. How about bigotry? Why does the evil of bigotry exist, based on the Fear Theory?"

"Fear of the unknown. Fear of someone else coming in and taking away what you have—your livelihood, your home, your beliefs."


"Too easy. Challenge me."

"What about gossip? That's evil, right?"

"It is. And the answer would be fear of being disliked by others. Fear of being the one gossiped about if you don't do it first. Fear of thinking that you're the most pathetic or scandalous person around - so you make sure someone else seems worse."

"Tailgating!" I shouted triumphantly for no apparent reason. "How do you explain that scourge of society in terms of fear?"

"Well," she began, "if you were tailgating someone, why would you be doing it?"


"What do you have to be frustrated about?"

"The person ahead of me isn't going fast enough."

"Why do you want him to go faster?"

"So I can go faster too."

"And why do you need to go faster?"
"So I can get where I'm going faster."

"Grover, dear - you do see where this is going, don't you?"

I honestly didn't, but then I was only eighteen and had other things on my mind, so she continued without me.

"Is it because you need to get to work faster? You're either late—fear of being yelled at—or you need to get something done as soon as possible—fear of not succeeding. Maybe you're late for a date—fear of upsetting me!"

"Or, more likely, I just can't wait to see you," I crooned, feigning adorability.

"Fear of not having enough time with me!" she retorted.

"Hmph," I sniffed. At this point I was willing to let her win.

While fearful things happen to all of us, we are not obligated to experience fear. When fear hits us we have to act. But how we act is up to us.

Some choose to live out the quote from Jim Mars. They medicate their fear by taking control. From the moment fear appears, they demand that everything and everyone obey their desires. They know that if they can succeed in taking complete control of everything, they need fear nothing. Control is what they do in the absence of faith.

Others sense fear's approach and react in a different way - they surrender control to God. They practice control of self rather than control of others. With true strength, they rationally assess the situation, consciously take it to God, commit it fully to Him, and then leave it there.

Don't misunderstand. This doesn't mean they roll over and play dead. The Christian continues to act in a completely responsible and righteous way, but can have peace no matter what happens because she has relinquished control of the outcome to the Lord.

And this is exactly what Jesus encouraged in His disciples when He told them:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

[Click here to listen to Jim Mars' powerful message of hope and surrender:]