Monday, 8 March 2010

Lent Course 2010 [Blog] - Part III

Jesus Christ and Fear

Fear is, to a greater or lesser extent, who we are. We are creatures who know a little or a lot about fear, be that in positive or negative ways: jealousy (fear and love), protectiveness (fear for the safety of those whom we love), paranoia (a psychosis of fear) - among others. Fear seems to me to be as intrinsic to our human condition as an appetite for the next meal. Whilst fear is a vast factor in the lives of some, I recognise that it is a marginal concern for others - but there nonetheless. I have to believe, then, that Jesus must have known and embodied fear as we all do. Yes, being God must proffer a whole panoply of reassurances in the face of the mortal life - I cannot believe that fear was not an aspect of the life of Jesus. To me at least, anyone who does not know fear is not affirmed in the truth of their situation, let's say! We all have insurance polcies for one thing or another (or fourteen in my case, I am horrified to discover), and what greater exploiter of fear is the insurance policy?

In order to gather my own thoughts, I ponder the following:

  • What is fear and how is it manifest in my own life?

  • How does it moderate my behaviour, especially towards others?

  • How does my fear affect other people?

  • Is fear an appropriate response for a Christian in the face of our Christian hope in Christ?

  • Can fear be positive, and if so, how?
I guess the next step is to ask the specific question of Jesus: did he experience fear, when and if so, how?

For me, the clear answer is that yes, Jesus did know and experience fear. In the account of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane described in Matthew 26: 36-46, we recieve an account of a very human brand of fear. I will justify this view (obvious as it might be to me, though not taking that for granted of you, dear readers) by working throught the account:

Imagine having a certain knowledge that within hours you will face your own death; not just a death but a terrible and agonising death (I am confident in my guess that the Roman authorities were not known for thair humanitarian murder). If you have ever fled from someone who means you harm, you might know how that kind of anticipatory adrenelin fuelled fear feels.
Jesus couldn't bear to face his agony alone. He asked that his friends 'kept him company' - such behaviour is manifest in the child's request to 'come with me' - fear is often softened by the company of others. His reaction to their failure in their charge implies a considerable level of fear.
Matthew states that Jesus was agitated. Whilst I am no biologist and certianly no medic, I know that fear precipitates a fight/flight response. Agitiation seems to me to be an outpouring of this instinctive response.
Jesus asks the Father to let the cup pass from him. While know that he later submits to his fate, his plea to the Father is (again, to me at least) a clear sign of Jesus' fear in the face of what was foretold and what was to become among the most brutal documented tortures and murders ever.
Overall, the tension that is seen in Jesus, his response to his flagging friends, his dialogue with the Father - all of these things paint a picture (to my eyes) of a man who lived knowing what fear was at its most raw and immediate.

Fear is natural; fear is born of a sense of self-preservation which, it could be argued, underpins the majority morality of human culture. It can be harnessed for good by grace or it can be allowed to become morbidly obese and a narcotic in its own way. Jesus experiences fear for his life which perhaps makes him a greater student of fear than most of us - but in the end, he lets grace wash over it. He does not let it become destructive or damaging to others:

'...But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?' (Mtt 26:54)

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