The Exploitation of Fear
The idea of taking advantage of our fear is not new to 2020. For decades (if not longer), companies have capitalized on our fear, telling us what to buy, what to eat, and what to wear while constantly reminding us of the consequences of not complying with their sales pitch. They profit off of our fear of not having the latest and greatest, of being unhealthy, and of not fitting in. As a professor of marketing, I can tell you that everything from textbooks to marketing gurus talks about the power of finding your customer’s “pain point.” If you can figure out what people are afraid of, you can sell them anything. Better yet, tell them what they should fear then conveniently sell them the solution.
For as long as there has been politics, politicians have exploited our fear, turning their political opponents into scary monsters whose sole purpose of wanting to be in power is to destroy our dreams and make our nightmares come true. Once in office, even those we supported, turn fear against us, telling us that they know best and that only they can solve our problems and subdue our greatest fears. Yet, they are also quick to point out new fears, and new threats. Our fear allows them to thrive. As long as they can keep us fearful, they can keep us in check. Just listen to any politician speak. You will not generally hear words of encouragement or stories of hope and optimism. Instead, you will hear stories of suffering, strife, and threats lurking in the corner. Politicians have learned well from marketers. Tell us what to fear and show us that you are the solution. Our primeval abhorrence of fear bypasses all other thoughts. We have to be safe. Only they can make us safe. No more critical thinking needed.
The Dangers of Fear
If we have anything to truly be scared of, it should be our reaction to fear itself. Fear, more than any other emotion, brings out instinctive reactions. Fear can shut down our critical thinking. In an effort to resolve the feeling, we become more pliable to the power of suggestion and more reliant on those who appear to have the solution. Fear makes us suspicious, selfish and focused on immediate results regardless of the long term consequences. In lifeguard training, they teach you about the dangers of fear. A drowning individual can force their only chance of survival (the lifeguard) underwater in an effort to get on top of them for the momentary relief of being above water, with no thought to the reality that once they have drowned their savior, they will once again be in the same predicament as before. Decisions made in panic never turn out to be good ones.
Yet, all too often we let fear guide our actions while rejecting truth and reality. Whether it is an impulse buy of the latest unproven diet pill or yelling at a shopper for not wearing a mask during COVID-19, fear causes us to leave reason, courtesy, and common sense in the dust.
God’s Perspective on Fear
As a Christ-follower, choosing to live in fear is a big deal. It goes against the teachings of both our creator and our savior. The command to not fear spans both the Old and the New Testaments. Yet, God understands our fear and the power that it can have over us. He understands the destructiveness, divisiveness, and pointlessness of fear. He does not tell us to stop fearing out of apathy; instead, the command comes from His heart of empathy.
John sums up the reason for the command not to fear in a wonderful way.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18, ESV
John tells us that “Fear has to do with punishment.” On the eternity spectrum, this means fear of God’s judgment, literal fear of death. But in our daily lives, it can also mean fear of “punishment” or ridicule from our peers for not wearing, eating, doing, saying, or believing the culturally accepted things of the day. We fear the “punishment” of not fitting in.
Why does this matter? Because John also tells us, “There is no fear in love.” Fear is a distraction from love. If we are fearing, we are not loving. Love is about setting aside our own desires which is in stark contrast with fear, which keeps us focused on our self, our own wellbeing, and our own reputation. In fear, our self-control is diminished by our self-desire.
Paul reiterates this truth, telling us that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). Again, we see that fear gets in the way of who God has called us to be. Fear prevents us from taking the right action and from living a life that shows we are different from those who both live in fear and who selfishly try and exploit our fear for their own gain.
Overcoming Fear – God’s Promise to Us
God did not just leave us with an empty commandment to struggle to obey. He also gave us instructions, a promise, and the means to overcome our fear.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
We must learn to replace our instinctual reaction to fear with the constant action of praying and laying down our burdens at the feet of Jesus. When we replace fear with prayer, God promises to bring us peace and to guard our hearts and minds against the destructive consequences of fear.
“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – 1 Peter 5:7 ESV
It is not merely a matter of God commanding us to not fear so that we can serve him better. He also cares deeply for us. He is a loving Father who has the means to protect us and, like any good Father, does not want to see His children live in fear. The truth is that we need not fear because God values us. He has proven that He takes care of that which He values.
“And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!'” – Luke 12:22-25 ESV
Just in case we are still not convinced, Jesus goes on to remind us that being anxious and fearful cannot add even add a single hour to our life (Luke 12:26). Fear is a pointless replacement for the love of God. It accomplishes nothing positive while preventing us from seeing, accepting, and acting on the truth. What is that truth?
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 ESV
God understands our fear and the vast amount of time He has spent speaking to us about it acknowledges the fact that the instinct to fear will always be with us. Yet, there is good news and hope. God is with us, and He has given us the tools to live a life free from the destruction of fear. All we must do is accept Him and turn to Him instead of to our fear. Through prayer and faith in Christ, we will overcome. We will prevail. We will learn to live in love. Let us cast aside the selfish ways of fear, and embrace our God who cares for us and wants our lives to be devoted not to fear, but to the caring, protecting, and loving of those around us so that all can see the amazing grace that God has offered up to the world. Fear will stop this message from reaching those who need it. But God has defeated fear. All we must do is remove the unlocked shackles from our feet, get up, and walk into the light of Christ and a not so scary world.