Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“Do not be afraid”

By Maria Boccia, PhD
Professor of Pastoral Counseling and Psychology and
Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at the Charlotte campus

Recently, I started attending a Bible study on the book of Esther. We were studying Chapter 4, where Esther responds to Mordecai’s request that she approach the king by telling him that if anyone approaches the king without being summoned, they will be killed. The discussion in the group turned towards the idea that Esther was probably afraid to approach the King. Someone said that the most frequent command given in Scripture is "do not be afraid." That certainly seems to be the case in the Gospel narratives of Jesus birth: when the angel approaches Zechariah, the angel says. "Do not be afraid" (Luke 1:13). When the angel approached Mary, he said the same thing, "do not be afraid" (Luke 1:30). When the angel appeared to the shepherds, Luke says they were terribly frightened and the angel said to them. "Do not be afraid" (Luke 2:10).
As I sat in the Bible study and heard this comment about the command to not be afraid, the psychotherapist in me sat up and took notice. We do not choose our emotions. Emotions are responses to our interpretations of events and experiences. "Emotions just are; it's what we do with them that matters" is something I say frequently to clients. Because Jesus commands us to love, I conclude that love is not just a feeling, but rather something we can choose. We can choose to put someone else's needs ahead of our own, to work for the benefit of another, for the welfare of another. So what does it mean that the most frequent command in Scripture is to not be afraid?
There must be a sense in which "do not be afraid." refers to something more than emotion. One of the other women in the Bible study commented that we are also told to fear the Lord, which led to a discussion about how fear in this context is reverence or awe, or to make God be the reference point, the most important person in our lives. So perhaps, we are commanded to not be afraid of anything but God because God wants us to see him as the center, and him only.
In the Gospel narratives of Jesus birth, the angels were bringing “good news of a great joy” to each person to whom they appeared: that God was coming in the flesh to redeem his people. The incarnation is an awesome thing: Divinity, the infinite almighty eternal God, took on our finite, limited human nature. "Vastness confined in the womb of a maid." If this God is for us, we need never be afraid of anything again.

No comments:

Post a Comment