“We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep into our own history and our doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular.” These are the words spoken by Edward R. Murrow as encouragement to those who would stand up in opposition to then Senator McCarthy’s hearings designed to root out all dissenters, whether they were guilty of being communists or not. Mr. Murrow goes on to remind us all of a simple yet exceptionally difficult reality: “We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.”
Of all the current mindsets that bind our modern cultural milieu, I think that it is fear that paralyzes us the most. Fear seems to rule us. Men are afraid to act like men, and women feel they need to degrade others to elevate themselves. Courage of one’s convictions is touted as intolerance and dissent from the current set of acceptable beliefs is a call to violence. Fear guides our motives. Fear of failure or even reprisal guides our actions and our speech. We are afraid to confess our faith for fear that our confession will be perceived as too inclusive or not pure enough.
The screaming messages of doom are almost always in our ears telling us to “be afraid.” Our cars scream at us if we do not fasten our seatbelts quickly enough. Protestors scream at us on TV telling us to be afraid of Donald Trump. Hell, these days, we’re even scared to let our kids play outside until the street lights come on because we’re told to be fearful for their safety if we let them play in the world.
The bottom line is that we seem to be scared all the time. Yet, our national history as well as our theological history (if you are part of a Reformation tradition) would tell us that we are not descended from fearful men. Our national history is full of tales of men that preferred death––our ultimate fear––to an imposition of their liberty. Men like Patrick Henry exclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,” as a battle cry for the men of his age.
Our theological history is full of tales of bravery and tales of men who stood for something even in the face of seemingly certain death. Men like Martin Luther, who famously cried, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” And though it is now thought to be an apocryphal attribution, the phrase, “Here I stand, I can do no other,” rings like fine music in man’s ear.
These men stood for something, and not just against something or someone. It is our various stands “against” this or that which I think motivates our current fearfulness. We have damn near lost the ability to stand for something. When we stand up like men and stand for something, though we may be afraid, fear is not allowed to gain a firm foothold because it is not what motivates our stand.
Arguments against almost always need to employ fear as evidence for why the argument has merit. Don’t let your kids have too much independence because they might get hurt or make the wrong choices. Don’t allow honest and vigorous political or theological conversation because those arguing for the other side might convince some of the “wrong” position. Don’t stand for your beliefs, especially if they don’t line up with current political or theological morals because you might reveal yourself to be intolerant or heterodox. Fear drives our decisions, and fear is winning.
The only answer to a world bound by fear is freedom. Freedom and liberty are not the same thing, but they hold some of the same power. Both imply that the holder––of liberty or freedom––is in some way exempt from external control, coercion, interferences, restraint, or regulation. One who is free is at liberty to determine how to act without restraint. This is what terrifies fear mongers and law dogs alike.
Freedom is what terrified the British aristocracy in the age of revolution and the Papacy in the age of Luther. Our political forefathers were men who proclaimed that they stood for a man’s God-given natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They stood for liberty and freedom in opposition to fear and slavery.
Our theological forefathers stood for something even greater. They believed that the Gospel of Christ set sinners free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. If Christ has done all these things, if God has declared us righteous in Christ and called us to Himself and set us free, why are we still afraid? Remember, “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) If we are in His hands, we have nothing to fear. Death no longer holds, nor does the Law have the power to condemn us. Christ has set you free, and in Him you are free indeed.
Being free, you no longer need to live a life of fear. Stand for your conviction. Live the life God has called you to live, serving your neighbors as brave men––men who live in Christ—freely. Be bold, and speak with love with confidence, not scare tactics. Cling to liberty, the liberty that only a free man can know. Let those around you explore their freedom. If we maintain the courage of convictions, we will not be afraid of other beliefs or views. Rather, we will have the courage to face them, honestly debate them, and stand tall knowing we have stood by the truth come what may.
Lastly, please remember, we are not descended from fearful men. You are not descended from fearful men.