When Fear is Good

It is not uncommon these days for conservative and Christian websites to promote rosy outlooks based on the hope of Romney. If Romney is elected they say, our Constitution will be restored and our way of life saved. Such people generally insist that 'upbeat' is good and fear is bad, a tool of the Left. Fear however, is not always bad: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111:10

Fear of the right sort can wake us up to reality. It can lead us to wisdom. For example, the child who is shocked by sticking his finger into the electric outlet fears doing so again. He has become a realist, at least in this one small way. And amazing as it may seem, at least one atheist scholar recently reached the conclusion that in our crime-ridden, libidinous society fear of hell would be a deterrent, hence a good thing. He too has become a realist, at least in part.

For more than one hundred years realists such as English theologian G.H. Pember in his book, “Earth’s Earliest Ages” (1884), and English Catholic priest Robert Hugh Benson in his apocalyptic book, “The Lord of the World” (1907) have used fear constructively to wake sleeping Westerners up, to alert them to the currents of evil flowing over and through Christendom.

Being realists they understood the signs of their respective times to mean the fall of the West presaging the last chapter, the final things whose time no one knows but the Father.

Another realist was Richard John Neuhaus. His final book, “American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile” presents us with a brutally realistic assessment: America is Babylon.

Babylon is the City of Man which is always characterized by libido dominandi—–lust for power, sexual anarchy, and disordered passions. As such, neither man nor politics can redeem it because what is wrong with Babylon is spiritual not temporal, and man---who is fallen---cannot save himself let alone Babylon.

Drawing upon the theme of exile in Babylon, Neuhaus reminds the faithful that though believers must be very much in the world, that is we must live in Babylon, we are not to be worldly people. Nor are we to make the mistake of seeing the City of Man through rose-colored glasses. We must, as Jeremiah told the worldly Jews who detested his realism, “seek the welfare of the city” and “pray to the Lord on its behalf.”

Realistically, the faithful are keep in mind that they live in hope between the Already of the kingdom inaugurated by our Lord and the Not Yet of its consummation—paradise, the renewed earth….our real home:

"....the present world will neither continue forever nor will it be destroyed and replaced by a totally new one. Instead it will be cleansed of sin and re-created, reborn, renewed, made whole. While the kingdom of God is first planted spiritually in human hearts, the future blessedness is not to be spiritualized. Biblical hope, rooted in incarnation and resurrection, is creational, this-worldy, visible, physical, bodily hope. The rebirth of human beings is completed in the glorious rebirth of all creation, the New Jerusalem whose architect and builder is God himself." (Herman Bavinck, The Last Things)

Neuhaus advises a “disciplined skepticism” about politics. Christians of both the mainline left and the conservative right said Neuhaus, are guilty of seeking salvation through politics and have as a result contributed to “the political corruption of Christian faith and the religious corruption of authentic politics.”

In conclusion, lacking disciplined skepticism, Christians who seek redemption and restoration of this world of evil and suffering through elected leaders and politics become subject to fear of the wrong sort as well as to despair and presumption.

@Linda Kimball