A Pastoral Plea – Fear Not!
The recent California attacks killing 14 and injuring 21 have left many of us confused, angry, and afraid. Some have said they are now looking at their neighbors who may look Arabic with deep suspicion – wondering if they might be terrorists. We may fear for ourselves and for our children.
Unfortunately, our fears may become irrational. They may lead us to thoughts of vengeance. You are well aware of what some have said in the news. “Ban all Muslims from coming into the US.” “Allow only Christians in from the Middle East.” “Register every American Muslim for tracking purposes.”
Our fear can easily lead us to places we do not want to go as God’s children and as the Church of Jesus Christ. Let’s try to calm ourselves a bit and look at what we know. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, populating every continent – only a little less than the number of Christians world-wide. There are estimates of 30-40,000 adherents of ISIS, a tiny fraction of the number of Muslims. Every major worldwide Muslim leader and organization has condemned what these terrorists have done and called their activities antithetical to the tenets of Islam. In fact, ISIS has killed many more Muslims than Americans or Europeans.
A major greeting in Islam directed to another Muslim or to any other neighbor is “Salaam.” “Salaam,” from which the word Islam is derived, translates as “peace be with you.” It is virtually the same as Judaism’s “Shalom” or Christianity’s “the peace of Christ be with you.” One of the major values of Islam is peace and respect for the neighbor. ISIS does not reflect Orthodox Islam. It is a corruption of the faith.
Yet, we may still be afraid. What are we to think? What are we to do? Let me direct you to just a few of the many biblical passages in the Old and New Testaments addressing our fears and how we ought to act on them:
Genesis 15:1 – As God is making a new covenant with Abram (Abraham), Abram is afraid about the uncertainty of the future. God says to him, “Fear Not!”
Genesis 20:33 – God speaks through Moses to the People of Israel, who are anxious in the wilderness. Moses says to the people, “Do not be afraid.”
Isaiah 41:10 – Later on in Israel’s history the prophet addresses Israel: “Do not be afraid.”
Matthew 14:25-27 – Caught in a storm, Jesus says to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid?”
An angel comes to both Mary and Joseph, announcing a transformational birth. Both are afraid, but the angel says, “Fear not!” This is going to be a great good thing. Angels sing to the shepherds on a hillside the night Jesus was born, “Fear not!”
After Jesus’ death, on Easter morn, Jesus greets the women running from the empty tomb with the words, “Do not be afraid. Go, share the Good News.”
And finally, in 1 John 4:18a, “There is no fear in love, perfect love drives out all fear.”
Perfect love drives out all fear! So that is how we are called to respond to the acts of evil we have seen – not with suspicion and contempt for Muslims or any others we don’t understand. For we are all children of God. Muslims, Christians, and Jews all share a common lineage traced back to Abraham.
Instead of blocking refugees, sending them back to a place overwhelmed with violence and death, we can welcome them in the name of Christ. We can support the resettlement work of Lutheran Congregational Services in the Lehigh Valley and Lutheran Immigration and Resettlement Service, who have been working to resettle all kinds of refugees for decades. (http://www.lcfsinpa.org/resourcecenter) We can seek to understand Muslims and their faith. We can pray for those who are mourning the sinful, evil attacks in Europe, Africa, the US, and the Middle East. This is what we ought to be about in this Season of Advent, as we await the coming of a Savior who is the Prince of Peace (Salaam/Shalom).
Is there a risk in responding with love rather than fear or hate? Yes! But our Lord risked all for a sinful world. And as his disciples, we are called to risk with love that can drive out fear. Please join me in this loving Advent response to fear as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Pastor David M. Deal
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Durham