Please forgive me for dipping into fear again, but last week’s fear-quotes have been swirling in my head all week, so perhaps it warrants another post.
At times it feels our entire world is holding its collective breath, bracing for the next disaster, awaiting inevitable misery and unhappiness. We assume the worst intention behind every action and self-interest behind every decision. We feel justified because so often the cynical view is confirmed. But what other view is there?
The Hopeful View
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst of all are our own fears.”Rudyard Kipling
Fear is a self-fulling prophecy; it is a disease. Once we start seeing the world as a scary and uncertain place – it is difficult to dislodge that belief. The world, and its inhabitants, become hostile and unfamiliar. Fear lies – it only tells us a sliver of what might be, and leaves out all else that could be.
A fearful outlook of the world can be passed down through the generations. Perhaps our own mother saw the world as a dark place – and her mother, and her mother’s mother. Fearful mothers produce fearful children. In order to stop the chain, we need to get a handle on our fear.*
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.”Alexander the Great
We would be naïve if we did not see the reality of pain and imperfection – but hope is not naïve, it is courageous. Mothers know well that our love and self-sacrifice are real, so life is more than vying for power or self-interest. We also know that many of our past worries never materialized, so fear and suspicion are often wrong. Considering the truth “We reap what we sow,” surely it is better to face life with hope and love rather than fear and distrust.*
Water and Hope
We were one of the millions of families impacted by the recent severe winter storm in Texas. We recently moved onto some land and into an older home. I confess that I worried our old pipes would freeze and our well pump would go out. Then my mind settled on the “facts” that all the plumbing supplies would surely be bought up…all the plumbers would be booked out for weeks… they might not find all the cracks… Every woman knows the never-ending pit of worry. I was letting these fears take up long-term residence in my head. I was losing sight of all else.
However, the words of G.K. Chesterton kept coming to mind, “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.” (See why I love quotes? Others’ wisdom saves me from my own weakness). So I changed course and I took to calling it an “adventure” instead of a hardship. And so it became one. When the power went out, we read “The Lord of the Rings” in front of the fire. The boys chipped away at our pool to get water for flushing toilets; the little girls searched out the best make-shift sleds; and my oldest daughter helped organize emergency supplies. My son’s birthday came and went without electricity or water. He didn’t mind. He said, “This is a birthday I will never forget.” Worries did pop up now and then, but, I diverted my energy to preventing further hardships and appreciating the advantages of our situation. I didn’t miss the joy of adventure in expectation of the difficulty. Pipes can be repaired, unrealized-joy found in moments will pass and be lost forever.
Hope When Fear Speaks Truth
But my fear was justified, at least in part, because the pipes did burst. To be honest, I had actually underestimated the damage and financial hardship the storm would cause. We still don’t have heat. Our AC system was damaged beyond repair due to the frequent power outages. Our barn flooded, my husband sliced his hand open trying to fix pipes, and our pool now has a serious leak. So perhaps our fears aren’t liars. Perhaps my other fears will come to pass? The country will split apart. The political and economic situation are just going to keep getting worse. So is hope futile after all? Yes. If we place our hope in the wrong things.
Think of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings- when he sets off to destroy the ring, he has no clue how scared he should be. He can’t imagine just how bad things will get. If he did know, he would likely stay in his cozy hobbit hole. As he experiences the pain and suffering which accompanies any great quest, he fears what other evils may lie before him – but in stillness there is also something else that propels him forward. Love – for his homeland, for Samwise, for goodness. Faith that there is a plan. And Hope. So he pushes on in hope. Not hope that the Orcs will see the error of their ways, or that some treaty between Mordor and Gondor can be struck. He hopes that good will triumph, and that he can be used toward that end.
In the Bible we hear a description of the “last days” and the fear that enters men’s hearts when they place hope on the things of the world.
And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity...Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken….And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21
Hope should not be placed in pipes, not in government, not in an easy life. Hope will triumph if we place it in that which doesn’t fail. Hope in truth, hope in life, and the life to come. Hope that goodness comes to the good, if not now – then eventually – that as Cicero said, virtue is its own reward. Hope cannot be that things will turn out well, but that we can turn out well. Ultimately, our hope is in God.
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Over 2000 years ago there was a woman, like me, who thought of water. She walked to a well to gather her water, like millions of women around the world still must do. She was confident in her well for it had been a reliable source of water since the time of Jacob. But she met a man there who didn’t strengthen her confidence in the water she drew, in fact he made her doubt it.
John 4: Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Physical needs and distresses are real, like thirst, and often we do not have the power to satisfy them. While these needs are important, there is a thirst that transcends physical thirst. A thirst, which if satisfied, can aid us in putting all other thirsts in proper perspective.
I always want to write for a general audience, atheist and theist alike. However, I find (I believe Plato had this same problem) often when I try to “wrap-up” my arguments, they don’t really make sense if you don’t believe in immortality. In Plato’s Phaedo and Apology, the only good reason Socrates could give for feeling hopeful when facing certain death was his belief in immortality. The only way we can face irreconcilable evil, or the unfairness of life, or the fact that much worse than broken pipes is sure to come – is to have faith that we have a soul and that our soul will continue to a place where wrongs will be made right and our goodness will be rewarded with goodness.
“Those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying, and they fear death least of all men.”Socrates (Plato’s Phaedo)
The world is a dark and ugly place without this belief. I believe we have been given ample evidence of God, of immorality, of beauty, of goodness – but we will always need faith and hope to fill in the gaps. The only hope outside of Hope in God is Hope in The World – and hope in the world will only lead to disappointment.**
“If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.”Fyodor Dostoevsky
A woman who is seeking living water is not easily confounded by a dry well, or a broken pipe. I am grateful for those little drops of living water that sustained me through our adventure: the memory of a phrase by Chesterton, my daughter discovering the perfect sled in our large metal bowl, the screams of happiness every time the lights suddenly turned on, the love of my family and my God. So yes, a lot of things haven’t gone “well” for me the last few weeks, since the cold descended on Southern Texas. Inconveniences, financial stresses, discomfort, and even stitches – but I retain a greater hope, because my hope was rewarded.
**Let me be clear, I absolutely believe that Atheists can be, and many are, good and moral – and may be more so than some theists. However, the philosophy, or non-philosophy, of Atheism gives us little reason for a hope such as the one Christ describes- a Living hope – one that transcends the disappointments of our immediate physical surroundings.
Note from Author
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I found these two videos insightful – their contrast of the limitations of the Adversary with the Abundance of God.
Great song, Fear is A Liar by Zach Williams.
Jordan Peterson on Trust and walking forward in courage