Carolyn Arends is a recording artist, author
and director of education for Renovaré.
There is a line in Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy that stops me short. “Jesus brings us the
assurance that the universe is a
perfectly safe place for us to be.”
Even in a relatively secure place
like Canada, such a statement
seems hopelessly naïve. Scattered
among the cat videos in my social
media feed, I find cancer updates,
terrorist activity reports, an exposé
about police misconduct, local
flood warnings and a video explain-
ing how to use your belt to barricade
your classroom door in the case of
an active shooter.
The universe doesn’t feel safe at all.
I’m aware that one of the most-repeated phrases in Scripture is
“Do not be afraid.” But in a fear-driven culture, it seems impossible
(and dangerous) to shut off the part
of my brain that reacts to potential
threats. So how can I live in the real
world and not be afraid?
Some fear is useful – it’s fear,
after all, that makes us buckle our
seatbelts and gives us the bolt of
energy needed to run away should
we encounter a bear. A cluster of
neurons in the brain called the
amygdala is responsible for taking
in data and producing, as needed, a
response of freeze, flight or fight.
The amygdala is critical to survival.
However, the amygdala sometimes gets a bad rap for hijacking
the more rational parts of the brain.
We can be frozen by fear even
when reason tells us we’re not in
serious danger. Any of us who have
been paralyzed by a harmless basement spider or zipline platform
knows exactly what an amygdala
hijack is like.
Complicating matters is the fact
that the amygdala responds not only
to actual threats, but also to antici-
pated threats. Some of us become all
amygdala – governed by irrational
anxieties and anticipations of worst
outcomes. Given the fact the amyg-
dala works unconsciously, it’s easy
to despair that our fear responses
are beyond our control.
And here is where biblical counsel is powerful.
Scripture asks us to consider
what it is we imagine, and to replace
worst-case scenario thinking by
anticipating the future God intends
for His creation. The prophets tell
us the universe is heading toward
shalom – everything set aright and
flourishing as it should. “‘For I know
the plans I have for you,’ declares
the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and
not to harm you, plans to give you
hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29: 11).
“‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for
your Father has been pleased to give
you the Kingdom’ ” (Luke 12: 32).
If we believe God is indeed work-
ing all things together for good, it
changes the nature of the threats we
encounter. The possibility of physic-
al harm or even death no longer
means the end of the story. The
probability of pain does not equal a
meaningless march toward nothing.
Some of the most debilitating
anxieties are the fears that we are
alone, that our suffering is pointless, or our future is hopeless.
Those are the fears the Bible tells
us – over and over again – we need
not have. But we’ll only be free of
that fear if we actively immerse
ourselves in the way God sees the
world, not just CNN. I’ve been experimenting with praying through
the 23rd Psalm every time I feel
anxious. It does not ask me to pretend there is no valley of the shadow
of death. It reminds me God is with
me even there – and that His goodness and mercy will follow me all
the days of my life. And then some.
Though we’ve just put another
celebration of the Christmas story
behind us, we’d be wise to remem-
ber what the angels emphasize
every time they show up to an-
nounce the arrival of Jesus: “Do not
Maybe those words de-escalate
the amygdalae in Mary’s and Joseph’s
and the shepherds’ heads. But there’s
more to it. “Look at what’s happen-
ing here,” they seem to be saying.
“Look at the lengths God will go to
reach you with His love. You’re not
alone, and you never will be. You
don’t have to be afraid.”
If the Apostle Paul is right that
nothing – neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons, neither
the present nor the future nor any-
thing else – can separate us from the
love of the one who holds the uni-
verse together, well, then, the universe
is a perfectly safe place to be. /FT
If we believe God is indeed working all
things together for good, it changes the
nature of the threats we encounter.
The world is safe. It really is.
The good news is much better than the bad
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GO WITH GOD