Fear In The Face Of The Unknown

I spent a few minutes this evening looking over different definitions and explanations of what fear is and the most common explanations focus on the perceived thread of danger. Danger, of course, can present itself in many forms, from imminent and extreme danger (e.g., coming face to face with a large, angry bear while hiking) to perceived danger which may or may not actually be a threat (e.g., discovering a lump on your body is may or may not be cancer).

As humans we sometimes suffer under the tremendous weight of fear. On the other hand, we also seem to be addicted to the sensations that come by entertaining a small measure of fear and allowing our attention, emotions, and imagination to be carried away by stories, movies, and sports — when we invest our interest in a particular character or team and allow our emotions to rise and fall with the limited uncertainties of either a happy ending, a sad ending, a win, or a loss.

And that’s all fine and dandy as long as we know the movie will end or the game clock will wind down to zero and the stress will be gone. But, what about in our real lives? In reality we don’t necessarily know when or if the job demands will let up. We don’t know what the biopsy results will be or if therapy will be effective. We can’t be there for every challenge that our kids will face as the grow up to support them through to a safe and happy end.

Fear grips our hearts hardest when we don’t necessarily have any input on the outcome. The weight of burden becomes too much for our finite brains to process and we break down under the weight.

In the March 21, 1944 audio clip from the BBC Series “Beyond Personality,” C.S. Lewis entertains a question that many, apparently, asked him regarding how God could possibly give appropriate attention to millions of prayers being prayed to Him simultaneously:

…I’d like to deal with a difficulty some people find about the whole idea of prayer. Somebody put it to me by saying: “I can believe in God alright, but what I can’t swallow is this idea of Him listening to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.”

And I find quite a lot of people feel that difficulty.

Well, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words “at the same moment.” Most of us can imagine a God attending to any number of claimants if only they come one by one and He has an endless time to do it in. So what’s really at the back of the difficulty is this idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time.

Well that, of course, is what happens to us. Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along, and there’s room for precious little in each. That’s what Time is like. And, of course, you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series — this arrangement of past, present and future — isn’t simply the way life comes to us but is the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from a past to a future just as we are. But many learned men don’t agree with that. I think it was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all. Later, the Philosophers took it over. And now some of the scientists are doing the same.

Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life doesn’t consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He hasn’t got to listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call “ten-thirty.” Ten-thirty, and every other moment from the beginning to the end of the world, is always the Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has infinity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.

That’s difficult, I know. Can I try to give something, not the same, but a bit like it. Suppose I’m writing a novel. I write “Mary laid down her book; next moment came a knock at the door.” For Mary, who’s got to live in the imaginary time of the story, there’s no interval between putting down the book and hearing the knock. But I, her creator, between writing the first part of that sentence and the second, may have gone out for an hour’s walk and spent the whole hour thinking about Mary. I know that’s not a perfect example, but it may just give a glimpse of what I mean. The point I want to drive home is that God has infinite attention, infinite leisure to spare for each one of us. He doesn’t have to take us in the line. You’re as much alone with Him as if you were the only thing He’d ever created.

When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you’d been the only man in the world.

The human brain is a physical organ that is limited in it’s potential to comprehend just as much as it is limited in its mass and size. The notion of having every aspect of our lives and, particularly, our futures under control is an illusion that we will never be able to actually grasp in reality.

Consequently, the peace that we seek in security and control is also an illusion. We cannot achieve peace in our lives. We can’t know all that the future holds, but, we can know He that holds the future. We can’t acquire peace in our lives on our own accord, but, we can trust the One who, in His infinite existence, is able to attend to each one of us fully and at all times. He alone is peace. He alone is hope. He is love. He is infinite.

“Infinite” is a song from the forthcoming album Broken Temples by Kevin Max. In it Max celebrates the fact that God is so much larger than human thoughts can hope to conceive and so much greater than human words could ever hope to articulate. We must trust His word, but, should be wary in trying to limit Him to our own personal human conceptions and constructs. It is a perspective not often articulated in music, Christian or otherwise. Feel free to check out the Pledge Campaign purposed to aid in the release of his new project Broken Temples so that it, like his past projects, can serve as a beacon to those seeking peace and truth in an open manner so that we can all dig deeper and rest in the peace that can only come when we trust Him with the purpose and direction of our lives.

The Hunter, The Scientist, & The Bible Belt Preacher

Like backwoods hunters in season
We scour the scrolls looking for the best place to lay traps
Cover the rusted, steel teeth with leaves and rotting wood

Conspire to grab God by the ankle and contain Him
So that we can run off and let loose in a wild orgy on the other side of the hill
Knock aside consideration of context with the barrell of a 12-gauge syntax

Hold fast to our cognitively concrete interpretation
At the expense of abundant life steeped in the infinite
We shed our clothes and drunkenly stumble into the backseat with Lucifer

Humanity has merely opened the cover of God’s cookbook
Yet we claim that we wrote it

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christan hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
-Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, Faith No More, and A Midlife Crisis

I decided this morning (or was it last night?) that I was going to write about the prospects of entering that phase of life typically known as “midlife.” I guess I’ve actually got a few years, but, for some reason, it seemed like a worthwhile topic to explore. So, I sat down at the computer and, just for poops and giggles, typed “midlife crisis” into Google and perused the top few results.

What jumped out first was the video for Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis” from their 1992 album ANGEL DUST. The result was an hour-plus spent waxing nostalgic watching old Faith No More videos. Now that I’ve torn myself away from the net long enough to reflect and record a few thoughts, I can see that, while I may not quite be at the typical age for the onset of a midlife crisis, I do possess at least one characteristic, at the age of thirty-two, that confirm me as a possible candidate: the tendency to get lost in celebrating past illusions and futile interests.

I do believe that the inability to let the past go can be a significant hinderance to embracing what the future has to offer which, irrefutably, has more potential for present and future peace of mind than does the past. What follows is an excerpt, from MERE CHRISTIANITY, by C.S. Lewis, that illustrates my point, but, within the context of relationships:
People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change – not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.

This is, I think, on little part of what Christ meant by saying that a think will not really livequiterartifically, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillustioned unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go – let it die away – go on through that period of death into the interest and happiness that follow – and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons out to be appearing and new doors opening all around them. It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.

Temporary fascination reminiscing about the music and mindset of my youth this evening pales in comparison to the authentic and priceless joy that I experienced earlier this evening watching an old Disney moving while seated on the living room floor with my wife, five-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son (who spent much of the time exploring his newfound ability to move himself around on the floor by pushing and pulling with his arms).

As time passes I’m learning that the only things that offer any real, long-lasting satisfaction are those times, activities, and efforts that are focused in celebration of others and my connection and fellowship with them.

Hopefully this realisation will reside prominently in my mind as the next few years of my life unfold. The truth is that a life lived being focused on personal interests at the cost of others is really not a life lived at all. This is consistent with a lesson that keeps getting reinforced more and more in my mind due to various circumstances: sin is self. Selfishness separates me from God and separation from God is death.

I don’t think that it is any coincidence that what I’m learning, at this point, fits so well with the characteristics that Jesus instructed His followers to develop: high honor for God, love of others being on an equal level with love of self, and sacrificing one’s own life for the sake of a friend.

Let my midlife-crisis-avoiding mantra be: out with the old and in with the new. Amen.

“…wrung and possibly broken…”

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Mere Assurance

Demons quietly folding up their tents with newfound humility
Creeping off into the dark with their belongings tucked under their arms
Is it wishful thinking or divine truth dusted off for me to see anew?
Rancourous winds dying down where even recently the storm swirled
Presently succumbing to the steady breeze of assurance

“He told people that their sins were forgiven,
and never waited to consult all the other people
whom their sins had undoubtedly injured.”