About fear.

I once attended a church where they taught that the sign of God’s spirit being in someone was that they spoke in tongues.  One rule, applied to every single person on earth.  At the time, I bought in.  And so did someone else I knew who pretended to speak in tongues because he was ashamed that the fact that he didn’t, naturally, meant that God’s spirit wasn’t in him.  At the time it bothered me, because I felt that the Bible showed God touching people in a lot of different ways than just speaking in tongues.

But some of the people in this church, they tenaciously held on to the belief that God could be defined in rules and patterns, that his ways could be traced out to a single set form, that life could be made to be predictable.  The other side of this homogenizing of God’s ways was the homogenizing of God’s people.  And the other side of this homogenizing of God’s people was fear.

Because as we all know, people often don’t fit within the strictures of our expectations, especially when the expectation is that God will manifest himself in someone according to a formula.  So there was this constant fear and questioning.  If Mary Sue was “blessed” and didn’t speak in tongues or start laughing with the “joy of the spirit”, people questioned why.  Maybe she was feeling God’s grief over some kind of sin, or… maybe she was being oppressed by a demon.

It wasn’t every single person in that church who thought that way, but there was a group.  A group my father described as having to cast demons out of their teacups before drinking.  There was a period of time where this sort of heightened spirituality was rampant, and there was a few times where good, decent, not demon-possessed people found themselves as the victims of exorcisms when people failed to come up with a good enough excuse for not abiding by the formula.

A good friend of mine was “exorcised” by a similar church when she had the bad luck of wearing a black t-shirt with a band logo that looked demonic.

Romans 8:14-15 says (paraphrasing) that those who belong to God are not given a spirit of fear but of belonging, and 1st John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

God doesn’t MEAN for us to be afraid.  And I think if we ARE afraid, it’s because something is amiss.  That something is amiss not in the world, but in our hearts.

The fear that the people of my old church experienced came out of a lack of understanding and discernment.  They truly believed that God operated by a formula- so anything outside of their guidelines meant one of two things: something was wrong, or they were wrong.  Either way, they were terrified.  And the church that tried to cast a demon out of my friend- they saw something they didn’t understand, something in her that they could not define, and it terrified them.

The same fear drives Biblically defended homophobia, isolates people in cultural minorities, and starts wars.

But that fear?  it is NOT God’s intention, and it is NOT okay.


8 thoughts on “About fear.

  1. Great post. I reminds me of how the Puritans believed that if someone was wealthy, God blessed them and if someone was poor, God was punishing them. Wait, I think we still have that mentality around.

  2. It’s true that when Christians have no other resource left with which to make their point, they then resort to scare tactics. In discussions on homosexuality, I always get told I’m going to hell if I don’t “change”. Although I never can tell what they mean by “change”. I don’t think they even know. Change my orientation? Change my presently non-existent “lifestyle”?

    And then I can’t even mention that I believe the Bible supports that hell is a second death/annihilation and not a place of eternal torment. But why do people become Christians? Is it a fear of hell or a love of God? One would think that the latter is a better way to come God than the former.

  3. Faemom: Don’t EVEN get me started on the Jabez movement and the Prosperity Doctrine! I have a real bone to pick with that whole line of thought!

    Katherine: People use the same tactic with their children- if they don’t feel capable of reasonably defending their rules, they resort to angry retorts. It’s about as successful with adults as it is with children- it may last for a time, but it wears off. I know people who have gone forward at every “Heavens Angels/Hells Flames” rally there has been, and their “salvation” never seems to last more than a month.

    I’ve always held forth that even a LITTLE love of holiness is worth more than gallons of hatred for sin. No matter what a persons sin, if they love holiness and God confronts them, they will find the strength to overcome. But simply hating sin? It wears a person out, and they will eventually lose their moral strictures when temptation gets to strong.

    And as for orientation- how can an orientation be sin? And I don’t buy for a second that it’s “created” by sin, either. Those sorts of lines of reason seem to be created in a vacuum with no real gay people to inform them. Either that, or I know the wrong gays!

  4. I have heard that the Bible was Written in order for God to communicate (personally) with each of us.

    But then I am expected to believe EVERYTHING some pastor or teacher “teaches”?

    I think God speaks to all of us (individually). In the end our pastor or teacher will not be responsible for where we “land” (spiritually speaking).

    Study your bible, ask for wisdome and discernment and listen to that “still small voice.”

  5. Hey Lindsey!
    Read this with a great deal of interest. One of my first rifts with the organization of the church came about when I was 14 and an ardent Pentecostalist.
    A sweet boy whom I’ll call John had just started coming to our church, on his own, without his parents. John was 13 and came from a rough home, and in retrospect I find it likely that he was physically abused due to some behaviors, though no physical evidence was ever visible then.
    I will never forget John talking to our youth pastor one night, hungry for learning and on fire for God in a way that I have seen in a lot of teenagers whose parents aren’t giving them much in the way of guidance. John described for our youth pastor how, as he had prayed the night before, he had felt for the first time that he was filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
    With out any commendation or encouragement, our youth pastor asked him whether he had spoken in tongues. He replied that he had not, and this pastor told the crushed boy that while he may have felt the presence of God, he had not been filled with the Spirit if he did not speak in tongues. He (I would love to paste his name all over the internet, but…) said this to a 13-year-old who needed a reassuring shepherd, and got a spiritual smackdown instead. I swear, I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
    In the last few days I read somewhere in a post on Biblical scholarship that the most oft-repeated command of God is “be not afraid”. A hard one to live up to, to be sure, but it strikes me as odd that so many “believers” heartily sow fear and are paralyzed with it, when that is certainly at least one of the things that God most often commands his followers to avoid. I will try to find the link I read before.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing the spirit numbing issue of fear! It is paralyzing! It is demoralizing, it is minimizing! And yet… God’s sweet and perfect love casts out fear! So then why was every church I attended mired in keeping us all “in line” with fear? I don’t know. But I am glad that I DO know the truth that fear is not God’s intention!!

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