Casting Out Fear
By Charles Rush
March 23, 2003
1 John 4: 14-18
wanted to say something this morning about the rather profound subject of casting out fear or at least something about managing anxiety, given the fact that we are living through an anxious period.
If you go to the
concordance and look up passages in the bible on anxiety or worry, you notice
that there are remarkably few of them, compared to the need that we have hear
about anxiety. I suspect that, if we had been asked, we would have had a
biblical writer like St. Paul, devote an entire book of the bible to the
subject of dealing with stress and anxiety, finding a life of balance and inner
peace in the midst of turmoil.
It is not that
the ancient writers didn’t understand worry or anxiety, they did. People then,
as now, worried about death, they worried about illness, economic deprivation,
about war, about children that were not shaping up, about marital happiness and
And the prophets
Jeremiah and Ezekiel are particularly poignant describing dread at the prospect
of being overrun by the Assyrians, the ancient army that first massively
deployed the horse and chariot to overwhelm the simple villages and hamlets of
They knew about
fear, they lived through it. Every decade, at a minimum, there was a drought
that brought a famine. They knew about deprivation, they lived through it.
But the scope of
what they did not know was so vast and the purview of their fears was so
limited. I visited the archeological museum in Florence a few years ago. They
had a collection of ancient maps on display 500 to 1000 years old.
One of them
outlined the coastal region of Southern Europe and the region of what is today
Italy, Albania, southern France, Switzerland and Austria. That was the border.
That was as far as they got. And ail along the border areas, the great region
of Germany, Russia, the great vast beyond, was just covered... with fanciful
drawings of monsters. The unknown is a great fearful area, only mythically
described; we have no actual knowledge of it. Like most of us today, the great
unknown ahead produces distress.
But in the 19th
century, particularly with the great existentialist thinkers, anxiety as a
concept moves centrally into the description of our lives. Psychology picks up
on it with deep description, sociology does. Some people even describe our era
as the “Age of Anxiety” and it becomes one of those academic ways of describing
the world that creeps into the newspapers and our every day lives because we
find it applicable.
And part of that
has to do with the interconnected nature of the world we live in. If worry in
the ancient world was principally about difficulties that they lived through
directly, today much of our experience is what we collectively live through
The other night I
got home very late, flipped on the television to see Ted Koppel traveling with
the 3rd Cavalry division, tanks and Bradley armored vehicles
streaming behind him, then the big picture taken from the General ‘s helicopter
who let Ted accompany him as he reviewed the situation on the ground. Then a
general back at the New York studios led us through a colored terrain map of
Iraq, outlining the battle plan, the principal cities that were to be taken. It
was a very interesting geography lesson and I realized that a week ago, I
probably couldn’t have named 5 cities in Iraq, let alone describe the terrain.
Then they cut to Baghdad, the eerie silence on the street, maps with
street-by-street location, the exact building complex a missile had hit. Then
we made a little trip around the world to witness various anti-war protests
that degraded into college anarchy. And we closed with the up-graded security
measures in and around New York where we are on heightened alert. I stood up,
speaking to no one in particular, and said “Now
I’m about ready for some beddy bed.” I don’t know what to turn to for sleep
these days after an evening of tension television, the bible or a bottle of
Jack Daniels- or maybe both.
The modern voice
of anxiety comes from a compound. Because we are so internationally connected,
there is some indirect sense in which we are responsible for disparate events.
Our increased awareness encourages this vague sense of responsibility. And yet,
there is a concomitant sense that this is also beyond our personal control.
Someone remarked to me this week, who opposed this military intervention before
it began, “I feel so disenfranchised.” That is one sentiment, when you fear
that what you are witnessing is heading in the wrong direction and there is
nothing you can effectively do but watch it unfold.
But even for the
vast majority of those who reluctantly support the use of force as the least
worst concrete alternative before us, there is the palpable moral ambiguity at
the moment, not knowing how this shall turn out. Despite the very impressive
discipline of our troops, there will be civilian casualties. It is not at all
clear how the Iraqi people will receive their liberation, nor what really bodes
for regional stability inside or outside Iraq. Even former allies question our
intentions, our commitment to diplomatic protocol. It is ail vaguely but
On top of that,
we have garden-variety concerns about the economy, our personal marketability,
our kids, our spouses, our finances. It has concrete, visible effect on all of
us. I was at a social event recently where someone was offering their
unsolicited opinions on the present political scene, getting louder and louder,
almost pushing me in a corner. I finally said, ‘thank you for shouting your
position at me. ‘ They stopped for a moment and said, “You are right.”
Take a legitimate worry, freighted with a couple other carloads of anxiety from
different places, next thing you know you’ve got a finger in someone’s chest,
spraying spittle on the side of their face.
this morning reminds us that perfect love casts out fear. The fear that the
author of John is talking about is the fear of being judged by God in the
after-life. In one sense is tautological. If we were indeed filled with perfect
love, what fear of God’s judgment should we have since we would be aligned with
God’s intention for us.
But, over the
centuries, this passage has given a sense of relief to those who have struggled
with their conscience, like Martin Luther, and come to the conclusion that
there is a wideness of God’s mercy and love for us that stands beyond the
partial and compromised judgments that we make in this life.
was detailed profoundly by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
who struggled with what it meant to be a disciple of Christ in Nazi Germany and
came to the reluctant conclusion that he ought to join a small cadre of German
leaders that were plotting to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He was caught between
the competing values of limiting evil on the one hand and the sanctity and
reverence for life on the other, expressly spelled out in the 10 commandments,
‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. At the end of a considerable struggle, Bonhoeffer felt
that the only thing he could do was act in the midst of a very complex and
ambiguous situation and trust in the judgment of God that stands beyond the
judgments of men.
Real moral struggles
wouldn‘t be struggles if you didn‘t have to choose between competing values in
a complex and ambiguous situation.
The word of grace
from John doesn’t mean that we don’t agonize morally. But there is some
concrete sense in which we ought to be act provisionally and give it to God.
How do you do
that? I’m sorry I can’t give you a diagram but I see it all the time done
impressively day in and day out. I’m on the Ethics committee at Overlook
Hospital. Not a week goes by that there is a very difficult decision that has
to be made between beginning or extending extraordinary measures to keep
someone alive or to acknowledge that the process of dying has begun and such
treatments would only extend a patients suffering or require them to die under
anesthesia rather than bring closure to their life surrounded by their loved
ones. Our medical teams- doctors, nurses, social workers–-all trained
professionals, all with medical acumen for prognosis, all in agreement on a
broad set of ethical principals that should guide our compassion for a patient
centered approach to healing, still these decisions are very difficult. And at
the time you must make a critical decision to use a new treatment or not, it is
rarely clear exactly what effect this will have on the patient. You have to
make a judgment, consider again the principals that are involved, make a team
decision with the family. And then... you have to let it go. You know that
there is a lot at stake, life and death issues, deep emotional and spiritual
issues for the family going through this. It produces moral anxiety that would
probably do physicians in if they could not give it to God. Some of us know we
have real moral accounting to do with God.
I think as
Americans we are probably all feeling this right now. We have real moral
accounting to God, we have to act in ambiguity, and we are going to have to
learn how to give it to God and go on.
ago, I was one of 300 citizens invited to attend the 45th National
Security briefing held at the United States Army War College. It
was 4 day event
and each of us was paired up with a rising Colonel or a General from different
branches of the service. Each day we heard a principal speaker- The Secretary
of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We broke
into small groups of 20 and had discussions on a variety of issues.
At the time, we
were in the midst of making the decision on what to do in Serbia. Their leader,
Slobodan Milosevic was engaged in massive ethnic cleansing and was reshaping
the regions in his country dramatically in a civil war. He appeared to be deaf
to any diplomatic entrée.
But, if you
recall, the Iron Curtain on the Soviet Union had only recently come down and
the Security Council of the United Nations could not come to an agreement on
what ought to be done because Russia was committed to a veto of any resolution
on the use of the military force in the region of their former satellite
Europe was also
not of a mind on what should be done, particularly because they could not
figure out how to organize militarily who would actually lead the troops and
People were impassioned
about the humanitarian tragedy that was being reported weekly but no one was
definitively certain that this was a systematic governmentally sponsored crime
or some outlaw units that just held deep, historic prejudice.
said that we had no strategic interest at stake and that there was nothing in
this conflict that threatened us immediately, while others argued that allowing
such a blatant violation of human rights on European soil meant that we no
longer took seriously that pledge we made at the end of World War 2, “Never
Our top military
leaders had deep reservations about military operations, the time it would take
to get soldiers in place, the lack of coordination between Europe’s armies, the
nightmare of having political leaders from 6 nations reviewing their every
We all got a
quick education on Balkan history, ancient ethnic centuries rivalries that
ended with the beginning of World War 1 - not a very hopeful history. There was
a collective dread about the political quagmire that would follow, fears that
Americans and Europeans would walk away after a military intervention and it
would all come back again.
shared with us the depth of the library that they use on issues like this,
thousands of papers and reports that have been prepared about every conceivable
political ramification of an area, economic reports, history. They had absorbed
an amazing amount of information during their year of study at the War College
and many of the citizens gathered for those discussions had an impressive
command of the political, historical, and strategic issues. We had all the
facts as we knew them. Led by the officer corps, we had articulate voice of
high moral principles that shared. We had leaders from different sectors of our
country and it occurred to me, as we were in discussion that these are the
experts. I had one of those mid-life moments. As a child, you always figured
that there were experts leading our businesses, the economy, our government,
and that the experts knew more and were wiser. Then one day, you are sitting
around a table and you realize that some kid, somewhere in America thinks you
are the expert that he can trust to know what to do and do it.
The reality is
there is a moment in which you have to leap, so to speak, it is not clear, and
you know that there are profound moral consequences. President Clinton took all
that information in. President Clinton, and whatever else may be said about his
presidency, he was a leader who listened to a wide variety of opinion. His
cabinet took it ail in and acted.
The worst did not come
to pass, neither did the best. We are just not up on all of the consequences that followed
right now because it is not news.
We are going to
have to learn to act in the midst of ambiguity, with partial knowledge, aware
we have filters on our vision of the situation, keeping our moral principles
articulate, and give it to God. We will be judged by the rest of the
world... probably without mercy. This is the moral cost of leading on the world
stage. For better and worse, that has fallen to us in the chapter of human
history that we will live through.
will be able to hear the merciless criticism of the other nations of the world,
for they usually contain a kernel of truth that is covered in a hairball of
envy and resentment. If we don’t, we will follow a very long list of arrogant
nations that have, in the words of the Bible, suffered the judgment of God and
either falling as spectacularly as they arose or slowly disintegrating under
the dissolution of decadence.
But, we must act. Inaction has moral consequences too. Neither ought we
to be immobilized by the plethora of competing criticism. We live in a world
that is only developing a consensus of shared international values around which
we will establish a tolerable peace. But we are not there yet and this becomes
clear in moments of crisis that demand quicker resolution.
Personally, I am
disappointed by our international diplomacy. I expect us to be much better
consensus-builders in the future. Great leadership is all about building
consensus. But, in the best of circumstances, we will not get the privilege of
developing consensus alone. Historians will look back on our era as defined by
terrorists and the reaction to them. There is no international consensus able
to respond in unity to the spontaneous anarchy of subterfuge.
There will be
times when we simply must act, inexactly, ambiguously, hopefully with a clear
articulation of moral principles. And we will have to give it to God. I wish,
my brothers and sisters, I could give you a simpler, more manageable moral
task. But that is not the era in which we live. I pray for you all wisdom and
courage. Our world needs both.
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