If you’re climbing a rock face, the thing that spares you from death in the event of a fall is your protection (which is some sort of anchor you put in the rock that will put an end to your falling). Of course, the higher you climb beyond your last piece of protection, the farther you’ll fall if you fail. This can have the effect of unnerving the climber, which ultimately negates the climber’s skills, causing him/her to freeze with fear and eventually fall.
It’s terrible irony that the very thing they fear, ends up happening, precisely because they’re afraid of it happening. “Fear” it turns out, is one of the worst enemies, just as Roosevelt, and Joshua, and the angel all said. It has the power to strip us of our capacities, freezing out the kind of risk necessary someone’s going to embody the generous, just, wall breaking, bridge building, life restoring character of Jesus. Live too carefully, and you’ll end up looking religious instead of righteous – painfully boring, and ridden with anxiety.
I think we usually become better at careful living the older we get, because acquiring more is the social equivalent of climbing higher. As we amass stuff, or social status, or net worth, it becomes increasingly tempting to live carefully, fearful as we are of losing what we’ve worked hard to acquire. But we didn’t acquire much of anything by living fearfully, and so we run the risk, like the climber, of substituting ‘prudence’ for courage, of ‘moderation’ for wise risk. If our motive in so downsizing is ‘preservation’, we’ve lost already, even if we win. Risk is inherent in any worthwhile endeavor and the old man Caleb reminds us that we needn’t lose our stomach for it as we grow old, or climb higher.
I’d suggest that this ‘fear of loss’ weighs, not only on families, but on the psyche of entire nations. Recent gridlocks in our nation’s capitol are rooted in, among other things, a fear that any course of action will run the risk of loss. We don’t want to raise taxes or cut revenue, for fear of losing – votes, popularity with the voters, security. We don’t want to regulate banking for fear of losing – political favor with lobbyists, the mirage of greed free “free markets”, whatever. So we freeze, or act so feebly that our actions are functionally meaningless. We’re like the climber on the rock face, thirty feet above his last piece of protection and too afraid to go up or down. He’ll remain there until his strength gives out, and then he’ll do what all people paralyzed with fear do: he’ll fall.
Jonathan took on an entire garrison with this scant assurance: “Perhaps the Lord will work for us…” He know that the important thing wasn’t succeeding or failing, but doing the right thing. He knew that falling while trying something great was better than freezing and not trying anything at all because of fear.
The degree to which fear – of loss, or failure, or rejection, infects us, both individually and in our national psyche, is astonishing. We hear it in daily conversations, see it in the way news is delivered, and live it by staying home and watching TV when there are whole truckloads of living to be done. And sitting there in our fear, you know what will happen: our fears will come true.
One simple verse in Psalm 73 is, for me, the most powerful antidote to fear: “Who do I have in heaven but you O Lord, and having you I desire nothing else on earth.” If Christ is meaningful to me, the real basis of satisfaction, then I’m liberated from needing $$ success, or the perfect reputation, or success in every endeavor – I’m free to climb – both literally and metaphorically, knowing that weather I land at the top, or in a heap, my most important Companion will be there with me. And that, it seems, ought to be enough. This is the “why” of intimacy with Christ: a byproduct of intimacy is contentment, and a by-product of contentment is courage, and courage, God knows, is what we all need these days.
I welcome your thoughts.