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The Irony of Fear

A serious danger lurks in all fears. Common wisdom argues that the purpose of fear is to move us away from danger or pain. While some truth certainly lives in such wisdom, it is also true that fear has an ironic quirk. The ironic danger of fear is that fear often freezes us. You have likely met the paralysis of fear before. I remember driving near downtown Alachua a decade or more ago and witnessing a terrible motorcycle accident where an unhelmeted man kissed the city’s pavement, leaving his mark for everyone to see. I jumped from my car to render aid, but as soon as my feet hit the ground the fear of making things worse ghosted itself into my thoughts. I froze. The freeze was so ice-cold solid that I couldn’t think of anything to do. The stall only lasted a brief moment, but it left me ashamed. Frankly, such a fear is entirely understandable. I don’t think I could judge someone too harshly for it. Sometimes the freeze of fear does more than make us ashamed. Sometimes it leaves us vulnerable to actual physical danger. Instead of running away, or fighting with the awesome power of fear-laden adrenalin, people stand statuesque as evil forces maul them, shoot them, kidnap them, or do whatever evil things that evil forces do. This kind of fear is hard to judge as well. Afterall, if you’re met by an evil, alien, nazi bear, on a dark street where you didn’t expect one, it’s understandable that your whole mental system might get overwhelmed.

But there’s a uniquely modern fear that many of us often experience. And it is worthy of judgment. It is called the Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. In this fear, someone puts off committing to things that could be good because they are worried that making a commitment will prevent them from engaging in another activity they don’t yet know about, which might be more pleasurable. I have found that the problem with this fear is that it usually wastes your time. Nothing better comes along, and you actually miss out on the good thing that you could have committed to when you had the opportunity. In that sense, FOMO is really just a fear of commitment. And it doesn’t carry the excuse of existential self-preservation. Instead, it’s just selfish.

There’s a terrible verse where Jesus declares that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of his father (Matthew 7:21). There are a lot of people who don’t do God’s will, choosing instead to wait for something better, rather than doing the thing God has actually prompted them to do. In so doing, they may miss out on the eternal kingdom, as well as the pleasures of service right now. It’s like sitting on a train track waiting for a train instead of getting on a train and going somewhere. In such a case, you’re either going nowhere, or you’re getting run over. What will you do to avoid such a tragedy?

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