Life continually throws up situations that make us anxious. We all know this. Yet, we don’t often share that basic human reality. Often, we are anxious about the future, about its hidden paths and unknown challenges. When Jesus addresses anxiety, this is the facet of life he focusses on: what will I eat? What will I drink? What will I wear? (For those into grammar, the verbs are subjunctives in the Greek, indicating the real possibility of not eating, drinking, wearing). But Jesus is clear: do not be anxious.
Isaiah 43:1-5 is a passage that also speaks comfort, this time in the face of danger.
Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
This passage, addressed to the People of God, raises so many questions. Many of the People of God have been drowned and burned, with many of these being martyrs. And yet, the Word itself still brings powerful comfort: Do Not Be Afraid…I will be With You. Over the past weeks, I keep returning to this: Do Not Be Afraid. Most recently in Haggai 2:5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes (in Life Together):
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.
We live in the face of an unknown future; in the face of our insecurity; in the face of the dangers of the world; in the face of our enemies…this is The Way the World Is. It is our common human experience. Anxiety and fear seem entirely appropriate! And yet, into This World there comes this jarring word: Do Not Be Afraid. Walter Brueggemann captures this in his prayer ‘Salvation Oracles’, which begins by speaking the names of the threats we face: terror, cancer, loneliness, shame, death – ‘the list goes on’…
And in the midst of threat of every kind / you appear among us in your full power,
in your deep fidelity, / in your amazing compassion, / You speak among us the one word that could matter:
“Do not fear.”
And we, in our several fearfulnesses, are jarred by your utterance.
On a good day, we know that your sovereign word is true. / So give us good days by your rule,
free enough to rejoice, / open enough to change, / trusting enough to move out of new obedience,
grace enough to be forgiven and then forgive.
Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, 83