Walking out of Amsterdam Centraal station and down the street, quite a few people were staring—at me. Amsterdam was our first European stop on the trip of a lifetime. The reason for the stares soon became apparent. It was early in the morning and I was wearing shorts. My wife and I had just flown in from Singapore and it was supposed to be summer—but Amsterdam was freezing! I felt like I was the only person in the whole city wearing shorts. I couldn’t wait to get out of them.
The antidote to fear is not courage. It is love.
After dropping off our bags and quickly changing into something warmer, we set out to explore. We fulfilled my wife’s childhood ambition of visiting the Anne Frank House; we wandered along the canals, through museums and art galleries and ate pomme frites with mayo. After a delightful and short 24 hours we were boarding a train to Paris, bags packed with cheese.
Two months later, a man would board that same train, bags packed with weapons, injuring passengers until he was subdued.
The Thalys train attack took place on August 21, 2015: one year ago, next weekend. You may have heard about it. For us, the proximity of the news—the fact it could have been us if our trip had been just two months later—was scary.
Unfortunately the Thalys attack is not an isolated incident. Nice, Paris, Brussels, Baghdad, Sydney, Istanbul, Baton Rouge—the list goes on.
The media-fuelled fear factory is filling our heads with anxiety and worry. Social media is flooded with violent videos.
I don’t know about you but some days I find I just can’t listen to the news anymore. Another headline, another horror, another headless body. I have to switch it off.
This atmosphere of terror, fear and hedonism online and in the media is the perfect storm. We’ve already seen that the politics of fear is winning support—in American and European politics, even in Australia.
Fear is an agent of the enemy. Fear leads to hate. It changes the way we view people and interact with them. The far right wing hates those who are different while the extreme left hates those who think differently.
The current global conditions are both a danger and an opportunity for Christians. The danger is one the Seventh-day Adventist Church has been awake to for some time. That’s why we have always been strong advocates for religious liberty and freedom. Fear creates a need in some people to impose uniformity and control. If we diverge from what the group thinks or disagree with the majority on issues like the Sabbath, creation, refugees, gay marriage, even the existence of God, sooner than we might think the conditions will be in place to restrict and even prosecute those with contrary opinions. People will do worse than stare. They’ll call you names like bigot or fanatic. How will you react?
Our responsibility is to be informed but not to dwell on or obsess over an interpretation of world events. Rather we should hold on to the hope that Jesus is coming back. We should stand for the marginalised and not swallow, without questioning, the things the media feeds us. But we don’t need to be drawn into a mire of conspiracy and speculation either. There is enough of that on the internet without us adding to the clamour.
Which brings me to our opportunity. The antidote to fear is not courage. It is love. James tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. To combat the unholy trinity of fear, terror and hedonism, Paul provides us with the heavenly formula—hope, faith and love. Imagine if, as Christians, we were known for these characteristics.
There are people out there who are “disaster fatigued”. They are looking for something different. They are open to the idea of God but don’t know what He looks like. We can show them but only by understanding the world around us through the lens of God’s kingdom.
It is little wonder the Bible repeats the adage “be bold and courageous” so many times.
Stand out from the crowd. Wear shorts in Amsterdam without shame. Be a peculiar people. And do so much good in the world that people notice and are drawn to the Jesus you lift up. That is the way to beat fear.
Jarrod Stackelroth is Adventist Record editor.