There are two kinds of human beings in this world. Those who have a fear problem, and those who are afraid to say or even think they have a fear problem.
Which is another way of saying that there is only one kind of human being.
We’re all in this together.
We all have a fear problem. Some of us are just more afraid of our fear problem than others.
That being said, I believe Jesus had a fear problem in the days prior to Easter we Christians often label as Holy Week. And I also believe Jesus had no fear of his fear. Therefore, he could face it head on and solve it.
Fear is what happens to all of us throughout our lives as human beings. It is our core human emotion. We all feel it in our bodies before we know it in our minds. Our bodies often express it as symptoms of dis-ease. Fear may cause us to get sick. It also causes us to avoid something. Fear causes us to feel guilty, or angry. Causes us to flee, or to fight. Causes us to seek control over that object we fear. And to at other times pray for God to take control. Without fear there would be no desire for control, no anger, no violence, no avoidance, no escaping. Those would be unnecessary without human fear.
I’ve been around this place we call earth for over 70 years. I’ve seen a lot of fear in my time. As a therapist and then as a pastor, I’ve seen what fear does to people. Myself included, of course. Fear causes every argument, every act of aggression, starts every war. It drives our spending habits and our saving habits. It causes us to over-react. Yet, our fear of fear can cause us to under-react, even to practically paralyze us.
The 2016 Presidential election in the United States was a classic illustration of how fear affects people. Some folks were afraid to vote, so they avoided doing so. Others were afraid of one candidate, which caused them to vote for another candidate instead.
Many in America’s minorities fear those in the majority; many in the majority fear those in the minority. Some of our police fear some of our citizens, and vice versa. All police violence is triggered (an apt pun) by fear. Unresolved fear kills people; even innocent people. Unresolved fear stems from our fear of being afraid.
We humans fear the future. We fear death. We fear loss. We fear pain. We fear our emotions in various ways at various times. We fear people “other” than ourselves. We fear ourselves. We fear judgment and criticism and rejection and failure. We fear loneliness and isolation. We fear God. We fear hell.
We’re a mess! Especially nowadays. We have a fear problem so large we are afraid to even face it or acknowledge it. It remains largely unresolved. And people really are dying from it every day.
Which is perhaps the best reason in this world to follow Jesus.
Because Jesus leads us to the solution. He demonstrates the solution. He shows us the way, the truth, the life. He does so when he’s alone in his own wilderness journey for 40 days. He does so when dealing with people during his reported years of ministry. And he does so, perhaps most of all, during the days before Easter. The days we call Holy Week.
In the garden of Gethsemane is the scene in the Bible’s synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22) where several disciples reported seeing Jesus dealing with his own fear problem. It was a giant fear problem. Jesus named the problem his “cup,” perhaps in reference to his own blood that would soon pour from his body onto the cross of unparalleled torture, and into the ground beneath. He fearfully prayed for a way of avoiding this “cup.” He was, after all, fully human just like you and me.
Want to know what I picture when reading this powerful Holy Week story from scripture? I picture a body trying to tell the mind what to do, what to decide. Has your body ever tried telling your mind what to do? It’s a common way of self-talk. The body goes first. And then the mind has the final word, makes the decision……..whether to obey the body or overrule it. Either way, it then tells the body what to do. Both the body and the mind have a will, but they’re not always in agreement. And when they are not, as when Jesus and the Father………God’s body and mind…….are in conflict, we see what happens next. A third party intervenes and breaks the tie. We call this third party the soul. God’s Holy Spirit. The one who has the final authority to inform the mind’s decision, which then tells the body what to do. And so I picture God’s soul engaging in the self-talk of Jesus as if to say, “I know you are about to walk through the Kidron valley with its burial grounds called the shadow of death, and I know all about the table where your enemies were present, and about the one who anointed your head with oil from her alabaster jar. I’m your soul. I’m always with you. My love for you is greater than your fear for yourself. Your fear will end, you will fear not, but your love will last forever. I will live in your body for a little bit longer, but you will live in my soul forever.”
Then I picture Jesus saying, “that’s the solution.” That’s the solution to every fear problem on earth. It’s the Spiritual solution to our somatic problem, our mental problem, our fear problem, our death problem. It is God’s permanent solution to our temporary problem.
Which brings me back to our own humanity. Our own fears. Our fear problem at its very worst, which finally comes to an end when we take up our own cross and follow Jesus. Which is when Easter comes along and proves to us, once and for all, that love outlasts and outcasts fear. Which can only happen when, like Jesus, we are not afraid to be afraid. When we instead face our fear out loud in our own garden of Gethsemane.
That’s what Easter means to me.