There were moments on my flight back from the states in April that I was very scared.
It didn’t help that already I wasn’t so keen on flying again.
And that the turbulence were the worst I’d ever been in.
And that it was the day after Boston.
The turbulence made me feel like we were falling out of the sky. Then in the boredom of trying to fall asleep, my overactive imagination came up with all sorts of scenarios of trouble, whether terrorism or weather or health.
Add to that North Korea and earthquakes and Iran and Waco, and the world sometimes seems to be falling apart.
I miss being a child, when everything felt safe. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become increasingly aware of the evil and dangers in the world, and I’ve realized that if we let it happen, there are things to fear at every turn. I’m not sure where fear starts – inside us or from events around us. Maybe it’s how we handle the outside events inside of us.
Terrorists want us to fear. If we are afraid, we’ve let them win. I think flying by myself or flying in general has been more frightening lately because life has been so rich and full that I hate to think of leaving it, and even more, of losing or being lost to the people I love, whether by terrorism, cancer, accidents, war, or old age.
But we can’t live in fear. I have to return to having a right perspective, that puts God at the center. A perspective that remembers that God upholds the earth when it totters (Psalm 75), that God is the one who channels the heart of the king (North Korea, Iran, USA), that when this life is so good – heaven will be infinitely better, that God is the one who has numbered our days. I’ve found courage in the story of Stonewall Jackson, who stood fast in the face of war because he knew that nothing would kill him or even harm him unless it was what God had ordained – and then nothing would be able to stop it.
That doesn’t mean that we look for death at every corner, like I started doing. It doesn’t mean that when we feel our faith is great it means something terrible is about to happen. Knowing His sovereignty, while also knowing His love, allows us to live life more fully, knowing that death will come only when it’s time, that when we die there was nothing left for us to do on earth and that we are going away to something greater. He will help us through it when it comes – but not before. I find myself worrying that since I can’t bear to think of it now, I won’t be able to make it through pain or terrorism. But He gives grace when we need it, so the fact that I don’t “feel it” now doesn’t discredit that grace being mine in the future.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t prepare ourselves for those times. There’s a wealth of scripture and history to help us there. If our God is for us, who can stand against us? Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us, and He is the “one thing” the Psalmist asks for in Psalm 27 when he says he won’t fear even though war arises against him. If all we want is the One Thing, nothing will make us fear.
Ecclesiastes 3 talks about seasons. We don’t know the whens of those seasons, just that they come and go. Right now, we’re in seasons of mourning, and it feels we are on the brink of a season of war. But war doesn’t mean its the end – war is a season, just like peace. Nations rise and fall all the time in history – but it’s so different to be on the falling side.
Seasons also say that life is fleeting. Earth’s trouble has end – the longest, hardest day will pass and one day, our troubles will be no more. And to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m glad this world is not my home. It’s such a frightening place, whether Dubai with its false security and safety or America where danger seems to be at every bend.
So what of Boston?
I have been amazed by the people who have not allowed the bombings to terrorize them but instead to bring America together. Many people have commented that Boston shows the worst of men and the best of men, with so many people helping in the trauma.
And the message it sends to terrorists is clear: we won’t let it make us afraid. That was a challenge to me – if unbelievers can be so bold, why was I so terrified in turbulence? Had I so little trust in God?
I’ve realized that a lack of fearful situations doesn’t grow our courage – knowing God remains faithful in those situations is what makes us stronger. To read of Paul’s sufferings in Corinthians and then to read him write in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God shows that Paul knows what he’s talking about. He’s been through a lot of suffering, but he knows from experience that even the worst of those cannot separate us from God. Heroes of the faith, the Judsons, Sarah Edwards, Jackson, and countless others, also prove this. It’s not just a random statement or hyperbole. Nothing in life, nothing in death can separate us from the love of God. Real, tangible stories of people living through fearful situations and overcoming them by His help grow my faith. This is one such story.
Some people think terrorism can be stopped with outward restrictions. I disagree. And in the process of allowing the government more control, we lose our freedom. We become like those subjected to Hitler and Mussolini, who gave up rights in order to be “safe.” Hitler used the “communist threat” to take away free speech.
But we do need to find balance and be wise, and I think some restrictions are good (like a certain level of airport security!), but others are over the top.
The only way to stop terrorism is for people’s hearts to change. Pray for their salvation and God’s mercy on them, as well as God’s mercy on America and the world. America has done many things that deserve judgment, so at times I wonder how we can even pray for His help. I think of Abraham pleading on behalf of the few righteous men, and do the same. But I know that even trauma and terrorism can be used for good and for His glory, as this writer points out. And so I trust Him, whether mercy or judgment (or proddings to repentance) is in store for us.
Be thankful for life. Every day is a gift, and eternal life is even more of one – but we must know whether or not we have it. He knows the day of our death; we don’t. Be ready to die.
Boston and a frightening flight were wake-up calls I needed. God was showing me my priorities were in the wrong place, that I forgot His “steadfast love is better than life.” The police officer who died in the manhunt was only two years older than Ezra. People who died and were injured in the race were of all ages. Death could come at any time.
And whenever it comes, I can’t have a hesitation to die.
It’s become the biggest test of idolatry for me. If I am asking God to hold off on my death or His return so I can marry Ezra, or get a book published, or counsel at Csehy, then my priorities are wrong.
For those who are in Christ, death just gives way to greater life. And so I don’t have to hesitate to die. I know if I die, those I love and who love me will mourn, but I also know they will be well in Christ.
The answer to tragedy and fear isn’t calm and peaceful pictures, relaxing music, or greater restrictions.
The only thing that can cure our fear is hope in God and relinquishing all earthly good for something we know is far far greater. When we hope in God, we don’t have to fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:6). So take captive every thought and behold your God – see His power and His sovereignty, His love and mercy, and His greatness that makes what is to come far better than even the best in this life.
Yea, whate’er we here must bear, still in Thee lies purest pleasure!
Where, o death, is thy sting?
In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.
Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I now decry thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease.
World, thou shalt not harm me
Nor thy threats alarm me
While I sing of peace.
God’s great power guards every hour;
Earth and all its depths adore Him,
Silent bow before Him.
Hence, all thought of sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whatever we here must bear,
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless Treasure!