There is a line in Dal­las Willard’s book The Divine Con­spir­a­cy that stops me short. Jesus brings us the assur­ance that the uni­verse is a per­fect­ly safe place for us to be.”

Even in a rel­a­tive­ly secure place like Cana­da, such a state­ment seems hope­less­ly naïve. Scat­tered among the cat videos in my social media feed, I find can­cer updates, ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty reports, an exposé about police mis­con­duct, local flood warn­ings and a video explain­ing how to use your belt to bar­ri­cade your class­room door in the case of an active shooter.

The uni­verse doesn’t feel safe at all.

I’m aware that one of the most-repeat­ed phras­es in Scrip­ture is Do not be afraid.” But in a fear-dri­ven cul­ture, it seems impos­si­ble (and dan­ger­ous) to shut off the part of my brain that reacts to poten­tial threats. So how can I live in the real world and not be afraid?

Some fear is use­ful — it’s fear, after all, that makes us buck­le our seat­belts and gives us the bolt of ener­gy need­ed to run away should we encounter a bear. A clus­ter of neu­rons in the brain called the amyg­dala is respon­si­ble for tak­ing in data and pro­duc­ing, as need­ed, a response of freeze, flight or fight. The amyg­dala is crit­i­cal to survival.

How­ev­er, the amyg­dala some­times gets a bad rap for hijack­ing the more ratio­nal parts of the brain. We can be frozen by fear even when rea­son tells us we’re not in seri­ous dan­ger. Any of us who have been par­a­lyzed by a harm­less base­ment spi­der or zipline plat­form knows exact­ly what an amyg­dala hijack is like.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the fact that the amyg­dala responds not only to actu­al threats, but also to antic­i­pat­ed threats. Some peo­ple become all amyg­dala – gov­erned by irra­tional anx­i­eties and antic­i­pa­tions of worst out­comes. Giv­en the fact the amyg­dala works uncon­scious­ly, it’s easy to despair that our fear respons­es are beyond our control.

And here is where bib­li­cal coun­sel is powerful.

Scrip­ture asks us to con­sid­er what it is we imag­ine, and to replace worst-case sce­nario think­ing by antic­i­pat­ing the future God intends for His cre­ation. The prophets tell us the uni­verse is head­ing toward shalom—every­thing set aright and flour­ish­ing as it should. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, plans to pros­per you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jere­mi­ah 29:11). “‘Do not be afraid, lit­tle flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the King­dom’” (Luke 12:32).

If we believe God is indeed work­ing all things togeth­er for good, it changes the nature of the threats we encounter. The pos­si­bil­i­ty of phys­i­cal harm or even death no longer means the end of the sto­ry. The prob­a­bil­i­ty of pain does not equal a mean­ing­less march toward nothing.

Some of the most debil­i­tat­ing anx­i­eties are the fears that we are alone, that our suf­fer­ing is point­less, or our future is hopeless.

That’s the fear the Bible tells us — over and over again — we need not have. But we’ll only be free of that fear if we active­ly immerse our­selves in the way God sees the world, not just CNN. I’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with pray­ing through the 23rd Psalm every time I feel anx­ious. It does not ask me to pre­tend there is no val­ley of the shad­ow of death. It reminds me God is with me even there – and that His good­ness and mer­cy will fol­low me all the days of my life. And then some.

We’d be wise to remem­ber what the angels in the Christ­mas sto­ry empha­size every time they show up to announce the arrival of Jesus: Do not be afraid.

Maybe those words de-esca­late the amyg­dalae in Mary’s and Joseph’s and the shep­herds’ heads. But there’s more to it. Look at what’s hap­pen­ing here,” they seem to be say­ing. Look at the lengths God will go to reach you with His love. You’re not alone, and you nev­er will be. You don’t have to be afraid.”

If the Apos­tle Paul is right that noth­ing — nei­ther death nor life, nei­ther angels nor demons, nei­ther the present nor the future nor any­thing else — can sep­a­rate us from the love of the one who holds the uni­verse togeth­er, well, then, the uni­verse is a per­fect­ly safe place to be.

From the January/​February 2016 issue of Faith Today.

Text First Published January 2016 · Last Featured on Renovare.org June 2021

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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