January 23, 2021

iMonk Classic: Jesus, Faith, and a Universe of Fear

Cartoon by Charles Addams

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From September 2009

When I started studying Mark’s Gospel many years ago, I learned that, in Mark, faith is not contrasted with unbelief, but with fear.

The command to “not be afraid” was common in Mark. The disciples are constantly choosing between faith and fear as they journey with Jesus. It is fear, not unbelief, that cripples the community of Jesus-followers.

I don’t believe Christianity is a mind-game where we force ourselves to think happy thoughts. Far from it, I believe Christianity allows- even insists on- a full embrace of the difficulties, obstacles and deadly realities of life.

What does concern me, however, is the response of disciples to the media universe we live in, a media universe that uses fear in ways that are crippling to the mission of Jesus and detrimental to the work of the Holy Spirit.

1. I am concerned that many Christians do not understand the media’s financial stake in creating an atmosphere of crisis about as many stories as possible. They will do anything to keep you watching and reading.

2. I am concerned that many Christians do not understand the manipulation that a diet of fear-mongering makes possible. The media seeks influence and audience. A constant crisis creates that atmosphere.

3. Without in any way taking a skeptical attitude toward science, I have to wonder how many Christians realize media science reporting on many of the popular television and internet venues is exaggerated and quite “unscientific?” Loch Ness this hour, asteroids the next, swine flu at 6, followed by a special on alien DNA.

4. I am concerned that the multiplication of “fear factors” has powerful impact on some Christians, to the point of challenging fundamental aspects of how we as Christians face the painful, unpredictable and evil aspects of existence.

Am I alone in this? Is anyone else feeling that the thermostat of corporate fear is being turned up by media and its echo chamber for all the usual reasons- profit, influence, audience addiction, government empowerment- and many Christians are becoming the victims of an atmosphere not unlike what we saw at Y2K?

Anyone else see Christians becoming easy fodder for this, and failing to relate what they hear to the sovereignty of God, a moderate skepticism of media and the truths of the faith we live by in scripture?

When I heard a guy making motions about the Mayan calendar and 2012 at this year’s SBC, I thought….we’re over a line here. Now I’m seeing many more evidences of the same thing and its getting worse. Those of us who don’t have televisions are at risk for being “unbelievers.”

Is it just me?


  1. Whenever I catch myself being tempted to be afraid of this kind of thing, I remind myself: I know how the story ends.

  2. Randy Thompson says

    Another book title that tells us a lot, and from Inter-Varsity Press, too:

    “Why the News Makes You Dumb”

    Great stuff about all the news we supposedly need, even when it’s not news.

    For what it’s worth, I find that reading the headlines gives me all the information I need, usually.

    Some Christians may well be vulnerable to this fear mongering, as their “left behind” eschatology bias causes them to gravitate to bad news, and especially to “catastrophic” news, real or imagined. The only area this doesn’t seem to hold true is the one area where the sky might really be falling: Global Warming. (Or, am I missing something here?)

    • I was telling my Mom about the pervasive power of the interent and how it overwhelms. Think about it…in the days before the net existed if there was a murder, molestation, etc.. in your town. It was big news. And it was all you heard about. Now thanks to the net not only do you hear the news in your town, but you are overwhelmed with the news from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Sacramento, Seatlle, Kansas City, and Bakersfield..

      So now I turn on the net and not only do I hear about a murder in Washington, D.C. but the news about the other muders around the country. It’s overwhelming…and it makes me sick.

      • The advent of the telegraph had the same effect.


        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And then the telephone…
          And then radio…
          And then TV…
          Now the Internet.
          Each one ramping up the Information Overload (and Bad News Volume) further.
          When do we hit Saturation Point for organic brains?

          Here’s JibJab’s take on today’s news:

          • I saw the first few minutes of a movie from about 1936 and it opened with radio operators on 3 continents breathlessly talking about who was sailing where on what boat with whom and maybe to get married to whom.

            I guess radio was People/US/NatEnq before they became national rags.

  3. For me, I have experienced fear, but I don’t stay there. I have faith, not that I will never have to experience heartaches or trials, but that God will deliver me in due season. James 1:2 tells us to consider it “Joy” when faced with trials, That by trials our faith matures. I watch the news so that I may pray for pertinent information, our leaders, our country our economy. I learned a long time ago, when my husband was in Desert Storm, that too much CNN is not a good thing, and we must be careful not to open a doorway for fear to creep in. That being said, I choose not to watch scary movies for that very reason.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And the Christianese reaction to Desert Storm wasn’t much better than CNN. All “End Time Prophecy!! THIS IS IT!!!!!”, all the time. Don’t know who The Antichrist was that time around, though Saddam & Gorbachev were both being Proven From Scripture(TM).

      • “God’s precepts may apply to any time and place but that’s a far cry from reincarnating past prophesies for direct relation to current events. We need to refrain from co-opting prophecy to prove a point or sell books or claim discovering a divine mystery…”

        Kinda like that :0)

        But still trying to figure out why people swallow this nonsense hook, line and sinker on the newscasts, in books, on blogs, etc… Christian and secular sources, alike.

        Leaves me scratching my head. It seems any past or future prophecy is at risk of fear-producing interpretation, making people run to overstock their cupboards— to “better cast your vote for this guy or do do do doom. Crazy stuff.

  4. “Anyone else see Christians becoming easy fodder for this, and failing to relate what they hear to the sovereignty of God, a moderate skepticism of media and the truths of the faith we live by in scripture?”

    I don’t think it helps when guys like Piper feed this fear mongering by making ridiculous statements about God’s Sovereignty and bridges falling down or hurricanes wiping out people. Piper is a shock jock.

  5. In my experience, the media addiction we suffer from is based less on fear, and more on titillation. Fear can titillate, but I’m not sure many Americans are that fearful. Rather I see a somewhat confusing addiction to excitement generated by disaster, alien DNA, and end-of-the-world scenarios. At least, that has been my experience.

  6. We live in an apocalyptic age with everyone predicting the end of the world with Christians not uncommonly in the forefront. (I have thought of getting myself a t-shirt made that says I survived the end of the world so many times, but I have lost count.) Jesus said He would come at a time we do not expect and this certainly is not it. We need to trust God and ignore the current media clamor.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      (I have thought of getting myself a t-shirt made that says I survived the end of the world so many times, but I have lost count.)

      If you do up a t-shirt like that, think about selling it online. I’m sure there’s a market for one.

      You might also want to add a list of end-of-the-world scare names & dates, in the manner of a band tour.

      “They’re living in the prologue to Left Behind, and find it all Very Exciting.”
      — can’t remember where I heard that one

    • (I have thought of getting myself a t-shirt made that says I survived the end of the world so many times, but I have lost count.)

      After one of those end-of-the-world predictions several years ago a friend of mine told me, “I’m awful glad the world didn’t end yesterday. I haven’t finished puttin’ seaweed on my garden.”

      That’s used as mulch around here, btw.

  7. Until very recenty, fear was considered an appropriate response to the divine. Devout Christians were said to be “God-fearing.” Universalists (not to speak of atheists) were morally suspect, because they lacked fear of eternal punishment, considered to be the primary motivation for moral restraint.

    (When did the culture change on this–was the 1960’s? The postwar thaw between Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism? Even the late 19th century?)

    “Hellfire and brimstone” Protestants are still around, of course, but the mainlines (and Catholicism) largely avoid such talk, while many of the fringe groups have latched onto alternative pitches (such as prosperity). However, the very concept of “salvation” implies some sort of fundamental danger, and raises obvious questions about how one can be sure one is saved. I suspect that fear is built into Christianity’s DNA.

    Christian anti-intellectualism is at least as old as Darwin, but if Evangelicals are talking about Loch Ness, aliens, and the Mayan Calendar, they’ve been cribbing from the New Agers. Apocalypticism is present to some degree in both traditions, and is not solely a matter of fear-mongering, but also involves millennarian hopes. (Maybe Jesus will come back / aliens will land / the New Age will dawn.)

  8. …”Sinners in the hands of an angry God”…sounds like fear inducing speech has been around a long time. I heard this kind of thing a lot growing up and it only made me live in fear of making a misstep and angering God, even after I “trusted” God to save me.

    • The classic fear mongering tactics of “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” was thereby followed up by “Suicidal Rush in the Congregationd ue to Ultimate Depravity”

  9. Do not fear institutions whose sole purpose is to sell beer, shampoo, and Viagra.

    • I could use a beer right now…however with the IV still in my arm after being in the hospital I fear that might throw my blood work!!.

      • Ha Ha Eagle ~ I don’t suppose you could say you are having a beer for medicinal purposes?! I was going to say WWMLD ~ what would Martin Luther do? He’d go ahead and have a beer – or 2. Glad to see you posting. Was wondering yesterday how you are doing. Praying for you and Mom and Dad. I think after what you have been through you could share with all of us how to live with fear. You sure have kept your sense of humor.

      • Just listen to Bob Marley for reassurance-
        Most people think,
        Great god will come from the skies,
        Take away everything
        And make everybody feel high.

        • Or from another Marley tune,

          “Don’t worry, ’bout a thing,
          ‘Cause every little thing
          Gonna be all right.”

          Or from one of my favorite of his anti-imperialist (end-time?) songs:

          “If you are a tall tree
          We are a small axe
          Waiting to cut you down;
          Sharpened to cut you down.”

  10. I occasionally have a student (high school) ask me about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world this year. Since they mentioned it at the SBC and we are predominantly Baptist (with lots of end time theology) in my neck of the woods, this might explain the interest in the subject. My reply to students (and SBC) ” Do you believe in the pagan Mayan religion and human sacrifice ? Then why do you believe that there might be something to their end times prophecy?” The response is usually “never thought of it that way” or “you have a good point”.

    • Scholars of pre-Columbian civilizations have been saying that the 2012 thing is nonsense, that the ancient Mayans had no expectations that the world would end because of the equivalent of a digit change (like the year 2000 for us). BTW let’s not forget that the Maya are still around–they’re mostly Catholic, of course, but I bet some are Evangelical.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The Mayans used a base-20 number system; their “centuries” lasted 400 years on their Long Count calendar. This Dec 21 2012 is just the first 400-year Long Count “Y2K” since the Spanish rolled over them. And like Y2K, it’s brought all the Ye Ende Is Nighye types out of the woodwork.

        As for the Maya, they are definitely still around. Many years ago I was attending Mass and looked down the pew next to me. It was a large “Mexican”/”Central American” family, and I saw them in profile — profiles that could have come off temple carvings at Chichen-Itza, Uxmal, Tikal, or Palenque. As far as I could tell, they were full-blood Maya — all the Maya ethnic characteristics, straight off the ancient carvings.

  11. “Both the Hopis and Mayans recognize that we are approaching the end of a World Age… In both cases, however, the Hopi and Mayan elders do not prophesy that everything will come to an end. Rather, this is a time of transition from one World Age into another. The message they give concerns our making a choice of how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility. The same theme can be found reflected in the prophecies of many other Native American visionaries from Black Elk to Sun Bear.” — Joseph Robert Jochmans
    “An Apocalypse (Greek: “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”) is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted.” — Wikipedia
    The Mayans are only predicting a progressive sort of change from one age to another. If we look back upon history you can see that there are always major transitions from age to age.This is not to be doomsday prophecy, but the Mayans do believe our world’s actions could impose potential harm to the planet and the people on it.

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