I don’t have the sort of nightmares that most other people have. Instead of my dreams containing the horrors of monsters and murderers, my nightmares contain the dreadful terror of running late for a plane flight and showing up to a class not realizing that it’s the day of a midterm. A lot of my life is riddled with mundane fears and the anxiety of a certain loss of control.
Fear is a strange emotion. Unlike happiness or sadness, it is an emotion we often feel over something that has yet to even happen. I once read that “terror” is the anticipation of what we fear whereas “horror” is a result of what we fear, and both can seem to work in tandem. I have found that it can be easy to live in a vicious cycle of fear, caught in the vortex of anxiously trying to avoid what I am terrified of and reacting to the horrors of what I have already seen happen.
Fear can do weird things to us. It can cause us to live in a state of perpetual avoidance and anxiety. It can cause us to be chronically suspicious of certain people or groups. It can cause us to lose sleep, to act defensively, and to shut our doors. And it can also drive us to reactively rage against anything that may seem to be a potential threat to us, our family, or our tribe.
I’m convinced a large part of why we live in a culture of outrage is because we are deeply, deeply afraid.
We take to social media with our arguments and heated opinions because sometimes we find ourselves afraid that others don’t agree with the future we see to be the best. Other times, we take to it out of a fear of our own loneliness. We want retweets to know our voice means something. We want likes to know we are being heard because the alternative is too hard to stomach. What if we really are all alone and our voice doesn’t really matter?
We see it in our homes and without. A fear that we won’t be or aren’t loved. A fear that the outside world will corrupt us or hurt us. A fear that we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our families. A fear that we are losing power or balance. A fear that we are insignificant. A fear that we will die alone. A fear that we have no control.
So many of these chronic fears breed anxiety and paranoia. Sometimes we may find ourselves afraid when we have no reason to be, or at very least we seek out something to dread because we’ve gotten so used to it. We are drawn to sensational news headlines and hit-pieces like a moth to flame because often times it fuels us or legitimizes our anxieties.
Sometimes our fears are reasonable, and other times they are not. Sometimes our fears are helpful for our own safety, and other times they are not.
If you’ve read this blog before you may know that I like particular sorts of horror films. As I watch them, I’ve begun to realize that the best horror films in the last couple years have been the ones which force you to sit in terror rather than constantly bombard you with horror. So often these films force you to feel the weight of everything the characters are experiencing in a way that often makes you forget the anxieties you are currently experiencing in reality. There is a build-up which is often met with a horrifying climax in the final sequences of the film. In this final moment of terror (and perhaps catharsis), all of your attention is directed at one thing. All of your senses and thoughts are forced to interact with one thing which so immediately presents itself and forces you to have to address it. All the mundane fears I have going on in the back of my mind seem to lose focus on the greater fear before me during those films.
Of course this doesn’t rid horror-goers of fear. All of us leave that self-contained place of approaching fear and go back home to the mundane and existential fears that tend to breath down our necks. A life without fear seems like an impossibility even for those who try to confront it.
John’s vision of Jesus in the book of Revelation (1:9-18) and the Transfiguration account in Matthew (17:1-12) have intrigued me lately. I’ve been curious to see how those present with Jesus react to him in his glorified state. In the Revelation account John sees a vision of Jesus beaming, radiant, and powerful, and as a response John collapses “as though dead.” Peter, James and John similarly see Jesus transfigured and then hear the voice of God and subsequently “fell on their faces” in fear.
We’ve been tuned to think that only things that are evil or destructive are things that we should fear. Despite knowing Jesus, John still fell in fear of him. He knows he is wholly good, that he is not evil at all… but he still collapses. In that moment, all of his attention was on him and he was overwhelmed by his holiness and power. In a moment of horror, he collapsed before someone infinitely more powerful and good than him.
Yet in that moment we see Jesus (unlike the axe-murderer or xenomorph or demon showing its ugly head and striking down a character in a horror film), in all his glory and power, reach down and touch him in kindness. Unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s monsters which drive humans to despair and insanity simply by being in their presence, we see Jesus touch his friends in their moment of ultimate horror and proceeds to tell them told not to fear.
To be met with kindness by someone with more power than ourselves is an unusual thing to our human sensibilities.
On one hand I think many of us moderns want to not have to fear anything because we want to be in control of as much as we can. But here it seems to me that Jesus is saying, “have no fear,” because he has ultimate control and power. As he proceeds to say, “I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”
Often we tend to fear that which is out of our control or that which has more power than us. And sometimes we attempt to acquire control and power so that we can avoid the very fears that plague us. But here Jesus is saying that he has ultimate power and ultimate control, and thus deserves to be feared, yet, unlike so many of the things and people we meet in this world with a lot of power, he meets us with a gentle and merciful touch.
We can attempt to find enough control in our lives to suppress our fears, but we will always find ourselves fearful when the cracks over our own illusions of control begin to show. We can’t make our fears disappear completely on our own. Rather, in a paradoxical sort of way, the only resolution to our fears is by surrendering control over to one who has infinitely more power than us.
Fear doesn’t cast out fear because a bigger fear will always replace a lesser fear. Thankfully for us, the greatest thing we could possibly fear shows us that he loves us and tells us not to fear.