Danger Is Dangerous
By JIM NICHOLS
The two sisters had spent their whole short lives wading through the legal system. Their biological parents were dysfunctional, so consumed with their own concerns that the girls had little care or guidance. The child protection system was cumbersome but helpful enough to keep the children from obvious danger, but it involved a succession of foster homes.
The adoption system finally worked successfully and the two now middle-schoolers entered a family that offered the long-sought love and stability. When the girls were asked to identify some important thoughts, their responses were telling: “I don’t have to worry about who will pick me up after school.” “I don’t wonder where I am going to sleep tonight.” “I don’t have to wonder about getting my next meal.” “I don’t have to worry about being stranded somewhere.” “I don’t have to be afraid anymore.”
A recurring theme in scripture is “Do not be afraid.” Jesus himself says it several times. Yet, in the Garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus with what can only be described as great fear. With an impending crucifixion, his display of anguish and terror is real and understandable.
Only a foolish person would attempt to explain this mixture of Jesus’ emotions, but there is something for us to see here. The newly adopted girls expressed a lack of continuing fear, although we know well that new fears are on their horizon as humans. Fear does not really go away. Yet, some people in some situations seem to master it in helpful ways. What is occurring here?
In Luke 13:31-32 this fascinating image appears. Some Pharisees warn Jesus that he needs to flee because Herod is seeking to kill him. Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’ . . . Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
I do not believe Jesus is saying he is not afraid. He is stating that he has a refuge in God’s love and, even as he looks ahead to his own human death, the presence of that love covers his fear. It is not that danger or fear disappear, but that the presence of love covers it.
A mother hen would not deter a hungry fox; the chicks are in mortal danger. Without stretching the image too far, the message is not that safety keeps us from being afraid, but love.
You and I want to be safe; that seems logical. The question is what makes us safe. Clearly, it is not the absence of danger in our lives. A mentor for me suggested that our tendency is to define ourselves by what we are against, by what we fear. Instead, he said, we should define ourselves by what we believe in and by what and whom we love. Fear is to be crowded out by love.
From a human standpoint, one can make an argument that fear is protective in many ways. In biology we talk about the “fight or flight” reflexive action when we (or another animal) are confronted with a threatening situation. This is an innate and positive response to dealing with potential hazards. It does not seem to be too farfetched to see this displayed in Jesus himself in the Garden; he could have called down ten thousand angels or fled into the night alone, but he absorbed and expressed God’s love instead.
The two sisters at the start found security in care and love and the result was that their fear was decreased. I have found that some dying patients display a remarkable spirit of kindness, gentleness, and acceptance. Perhaps that is because they, even in that time of life, feel loved and cared for. The danger of loss of life still exists but exists within the context of love and care. For those of us watching that event, our role is to be human vessels of God’s love since he is the ultimate lover and caretaker.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain