Humans have an incredible capacity to fear. A certain type of fear is actually a gift to us in a fallen world because it enables us to sense and avoid danger. The problem with fear, however, is that the parts of the brain that control our fear response are not the same ones that control our ability to reason. In other words, to be effective, our capacity to fear has to operate very quickly, and the cost of a rapid fear response is a sometimes irrational fear response. People, who want to control your behavior, are quite adept at appealing to your fear response in order to get you to take some action that benefits them. Tune in to this news outlet and follow their “breaking coverage” of some tragic event. Support this or that environmental cause before the planet is destroyed. Buy gold before the next stock market crash. Buy survival supplies before the coming societal meltdown. Enroll your kid in a special program before it’s too late and she falls behind the other kids. The list is virtually endless.
Sadly, Christians are often motivated by irrational fears just like everyone else. A particularly troubling example of this is the anti-vaccine craze in our country. To use a current example, there is a measles outbreak occurring right now that seems to have begun at the Disneyland theme park in CA. Over 50 people have been infected, and the disease has now spread to multiple states. An aggressive and effective vaccination campaign reduced measles rates in the US from half a million per year to virtually none over the course of 35 years. Since measles was eliminated as an endemic disease in the US in 2000, the number of measles cases has been rising at an alarming rate. In 2014 there were 644 cases including a single outbreak that affected nearly 400 people in Ohio. Given the way 2015 is starting, the situation does not appear to be improving. US health officials believe that falling vaccination rates are the most significant factor contributing to the recent increases in measles cases.
So how does this illustrate the paradox of irrational fear? Simply put, parents fear the possible side-effects of the measles vaccine more than they fear the measles disease itself. This is despite the fact that literally hundreds of millions of measles vaccines have been given with the number of serious, adverse reactions so low that it is difficult to determine if they are actually tied to the vaccine at all. The chances of having a serious health problem caused by the vaccine are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, measles is a highly contagious disease that can have serious complications. As many as one of every 20 children who gets the measles, will get pneumonia. About one in 1000 will get encephalitis. Two of every 1000 will die. Measles still kills around 150,000 children worldwide each year. No vaccine is 100% effective, and every population has people who cannot be vaccinated for various health reasons. When healthy people chose not to vaccinate, it puts everyone at risk. As vaccination rates decline, the rates of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases is going to rise. Groups of unvaccinated people, who congregate together, are most susceptible. So being part of a home school group or church that does not vaccinate is far more dangerous than actually getting a vaccination. The anti-vaccine, fear industry has succeeded in convincing far too many people to fear the wrong thing.
I know that some of you are not going to be very happy with me. Afterall, am I not just using fear to try to motivate you? Remember that fear itself is a gift, but one (like all of our gifts) that has been corrupted by the fall. We often do not fear the right things. Our job is to have an educated and biblically-informed awareness of the real threats around us. Here is how Jesus said it,
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28, NKJ).
Jesus said this because far too many people are more concerned about what others think of them than what God thinks of them. Jesus makes it clear that the one thing every person should fear is God’s judgment in hell. Isn’t it tragic that so few people actually do? Jesus had a healthy fear of hell and yet He overcame hell by His death and resurrection. Because He defeated the great enemy, His people will never have to experience hell. If you have put your faith in Jesus, then you ultimately have nothing to fear!