Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Anatomy of Fear

Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis illustrates a telling moment in the spiritual history of the human race. Adam and Eve have disobeyed God’s commandment and eaten the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. By doing so, they have effectively declared themselves to “like God,” (Gen. 3:5) which is to say, His equals.

In that moment, Adam and Eve discover that they are in fact naked: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” (Gen. 3:7)

The nakedness of Adam and Eve is more than just physical nudity. It also represents their spiritual intimacy with each other, the world, and ultimately, God Himself. Nakedness means they are open, transparent, and vulnerable. Nothing is hidden, nothing concealed. They are fully exposed to and therefore known by God.

By discovering their nakedness and sewing fig leaves into aprons, our spiritual ancestors demonstrate that they can no longer live in this exposed state. As God’s would-be equals they cannot allow Him to have direct access their souls. As rivals for His godhood, they must separate themselves from Him and define themselves against Him.

Of course, there is a problem: they are not the real God and never will be. And when the real God shows up, their first instinct is to avoid Him:

“And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”” (Gen. 3:8-10)

We are witnessing here the anatomy of fear. Adam and Eve’s claim to be God’s equals lead them to separate themselves from Him by covering themselves up. They realize that their claim to godhood is false, but they are not willing to repent of it, so they would rather run away from the real God, in the forlorn hope that they can continue nurturing the illusion that they are “like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)

What then is fear? It is simply the refusal to look at ourselves honestly, to take responsibility for who we really are. We persist in believing that we are the masters of our own destinies, even as we realize that we are living a lie. Fear is the attitude of running and hiding from the truth that we are not God.

All our fears have this common spiritual root. Consider, for instance, fear of economic insecurity—a common one these days. If I am constantly worried about my family’s material wellbeing, is it not because I refuse to accept that I am not ultimately in control of the larger economic forces of the world? Isn’t my fear just a stubborn insistence that I am playing god in my life, in spite of all evidence that it’s just a game?

If this is indeed so, then the antidote to fear is two-fold. First, it is a courageous confrontation with the truth. We need to look squarely at the ways in which self-reliance has failed us, the ways in which we are really not “like God,” the ways in which we are really powerless over our emotional, psychological, and material lives.

Secondly, the antidote to fear is a life lived in trust. We must stop running, turn and surrender ourselves to the real God. If there is any fear in our life at all, the chances are we worshiping the wrong God—an angry and judging and punishing and vengeful deity, an idol who keeps keep us running, enslaved to our fear.

And if we want to be free from fear, perhaps we should consider the possibility that another God might in fact exist, a God who wants to embrace us and care for us and who provide everything we need to live and thrive as His children.

The good news is that we do not need to believe wholeheartedly in such a God. We need only acknowledge the possibility that might He be real. That acknowledgement is alone enough to open the door through which His love can flood in upon us, casting out all fear and filling us with our lives with real and lasting joy.

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