Finding Courage In A World Governed By Fear - Part 1

Mike Breen
January 27, 2020

Today I want to respond to a question that I have been asked frequently, including on a recent occasion:

How can I be courageous in a world filled with fear?

This is a fascinating question and one that we need to attend to at the moment. All around we see all kinds of indications of…

…a world running out of ideas

…a world running into chaos

…a world overseen by leaders who have little or no idea about how to find solutions to the mounting problems that spiral around us.

International terrorism, ecological catastrophe, and the continuing plight of the under-resourced in the world bring us face to face with anxiety. If we don’t know how to deal with this anxiety, it will gnaw away at us and ruin our lives and spoil our relationships.

I’ve been thinking about how best to engage this subject because of these requests. I’ve dealt with it in some measure by looking at the three temptations of Jesus in the Off Mike podcast already, and some of that material will be relevant to this discussion.

As reflected about where to start in Scripture, I thought Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It’s interesting that Paul would make this statement in the stream of thought he was in in this letter to Galatians. As a reminder, Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians after hearing about how they had surrendered their freedom in Christ that he had so boldly proclaimed to them and had instead bowed the knee to requests of Jewish preachers of teachers who, although followers of Jesus, required them to become Jews to fully follow Christ.

Paul made the case compellingly that a person does not have to embrace the ethnicity of the Jewish nation or the religious history of the Jewish people to follow

Christ, because faith connects them to the foundations of what God did among the Israelites. Faith connects them to the grace they need for salvation.

Galatians is a fascinating exposure of the heart of Paul as he wrestles with these enormous topics. As a Jew himself as well as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul lives in the nexus of this religious struggle being played out in Galatia.

He begins his letter with a long excursus about his own discovery of Jesus and his own revelation of who Jesus is from his experience on the road to Damascus. In this account, Paul includes a lot of external stories that we don’t know from other parts of the Bible—like spending time in Damascus and three years in Arabia and how, after first introducing himself as a new believer in Jerusalem, spending 14 years away before returning for the council of Jerusalem that settled the issue of Gentile believers forever.

Paul gives this multi-layered narrative about his own testimony, his own salvation. As he completes this thinking, he says what we read earlier:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


The Life of Death

Paul is making it clear that he has a different way of looking at life than most of the people reading this letter or most of the people he has met. It reminds me a lot of one of the more famous portions of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. In a conversation between Pvt. Albert Blythe and Capt. Ronald Spears, there is a similar articulation of this principle of counting yourself dead.

Pvt. Blythe says, “Sir, when I landed on D-Day, I found myself in a ditch all by myself. I fell asleep. I think it was the sickness pills they gave us. When I woke up, I really didn’t try to find my unit to fight. I just kind of stayed put.”

Capt. Spears replies, “What’s your name, trooper?” “Blythe, sir. Albert Blythe.”

“Do you know why you hid in that ditch, Blythe?” “I was scared?”

“We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But Blythe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function—without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends on it.”

If anyone has read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, you’ll know that’s one of the principles used for hundreds of years by military strategists who have read his epic work. The idea is that you give your troops no way of escape and no alternative other than to recognize that, if they don’t fight and win, they’re dead. That basic principle of warfare goes back hundreds and hundreds of years.

Paul seems to be articulating this principle from a spiritual perspective. And it’s the key to understanding how to have courage in a world beset by fear.


Fear and Courage in the World

The world that we’re in is full of fear. Take the presidential race currently going on in America. Unfortunately, I’m still not able to vote, but I’m quite an interested observer. That contest between the two candidates is really a contest between candidates who can deal with peoples’ deepest and most inner-felt fears the best.

  • Do you deal with fear by overcoming fear in the way in which the capitalist mass market has always overcome it?
  • Or do you overcome the fears by managing the scarce resources available to us so everyone gets a portion?Fundamentally, those seem to be the two options that are available. The problem with both of those perspectives is that they don’t ever deal with fear. They only manage its presence and existence.How then are we supposed to look at our world, walk a life of faith, and live a life that is not riven through with the same troubles, difficulties, and testing emotions that so many other people live with?Recently I’ve been fascinated to watch the Paralympics again. These people who are presented in some media as super-humans (and for understandable reasons) all have a story of heroic overcoming of incredible trials and difficulties. When we look at their lives and their achievements, we find ourselves strangely moved, often to tears.In a similar way, we find ourselves moved and experiencing all kinds of unexpected emotions when we watch television programs like The Voice. When you watch these talent programs, what you find is that the stories of the contestants are similar to the stories of the Paralympics—stories of heroic breakthrough in the midst of deep and troubling difficulties. These people have overcoming incredible odds to even get to the point where they can be contestants.Right there is the very heart of what God has hard-wired into every person. Why is it that every culture has a version of American Idol (which began as Pop Idol in its original incarnation back in England) or some version of The Voice or some version of some other story built around adversity being overcome by heroic individuals who see their victory on the other end of great difficulty?


Sociological Explanation

It doesn’t matter where you go in the world—you’ll find similar programs on television and similar movies being the hits in different places. And fascinatingly, you’ll find similar frameworks of heroism and popular myth in most of the cultures around the world.

Joseph Campbell was the first person to uncover what he called the Monomyth—the single story that undergirds human culture in every place and time. It is the story of the hero. The story of the hero is the story of one who is called from his/her normal existence, normally through an inciting incident that is unusual and often dangerous. This draws them from one kind of existence into another.

Maybe it’s apocalypse.

Maybe it’s stepping through a wardrobe and finding yourself in another world. Maybe it’s being captured by pirates and being taken off as a slave or prisoner to some other place.

Whatever it is, the woman or man finds him/herself taken from the ordinary world and forced into a different world that is unfamiliar, strange, and (in its alien-ness) threatening.

In this underworld, as it’s described in Greek and Roman mythology, or in this desert or valley, as it is described in the Bible, the hero encounters a few things:

The first thing the hero or heroine encounters is his or her own frailty, brokenness, and weakness. It’s often true that the hero or heroine finds him/herself unable to escape weakness—it’s almost as though heroes have to carry their weakness with them on their journeys.

The hero or heroine also encounters two kinds of relationships. The first is the relationship with the antagonist or enemy—the person who wants them to fail in their quest to escape the underworld and defeat the enemies they find there. The antagonists will reveal an unnatural hatred of the hero and try to destroy them and prevent them from returning to the real world.

As well as the antagonist, there is the mentor who comes to strengthen the hero or heroine is his/her struggle. Usually, the mentor comes with friends, skills, tools, and teaching. Obi Wan Kenobi finds Luke Skywalker. Gandalf finds Bilbo and offers all that’s needed to make the hero’s journey from beginning to end.

The hero embraces that reality or fails. If you embrace the reality as the hero, you find that the resources offered are just enough for you to be able to get through. Sometimes these resources are removed from the grace that you are I might believe in and are just described as the human spirit. But however these gifts, skills, and resources are viewed, they are just enough for the hero to make it through the trial and difficulty and to come out the other side stronger.

If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. These phrases seem so trite and illegitimate, and yet are used over and over again, and actually seem to ring true in the hearts of millions of people. The reason for that is that this story is one that is common to us all.

Previously Published OCTOBER 6, 2016

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