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There is great spiritual danger in fear itself

Columnist Chris Brekke says be aware and smart about environmental dangers, political perils, personal risks and foreign threats, but be not afraid.

"From the Pulpit" column sig

We are living in an epidemic. It is a silent and invisible dominating force. It has great power to overshadow our days and control our lives.

I do not mean the coronavirus.

There is no denying the COVID epidemic that has swept over the world, killing millions, but I'm thinking today of a different plague. (I am one of those who hope that between the milder Omicron variant takeover and the advent of therapeutics in 2022, COVID will recede greatly.)

Yet a new variant of an ancient malady is destructively upon us. I perceive that there is an epidemic of anxiety.

There is widespread fear in Western life; a sub-conscious and free-floating anxiety about our world and its prospects. People are ill-at-ease about the human enterprise. There's a feeling that there are tectonic plates moving beneath our feet, and a growing sensation of looming crisis.


Do you feel it? A quiet dread of the coming collapse of our peaceful prosperity hovers in the national atmosphere.

I don't think it's paranoia. I don't think its foolish phobia. Educated and aware citizens know that we have serious issues.

Should I name some? Here's a quick seven:

1. A global pandemic that an advanced civilization can not stop.

2. Growing political polarization and extremism that is not abating.

3. Steady erosion of marriage and family life continues.

4. Russia and China have re-emerged as legitimate threats to the world order.

5. The climate is under duress,.


6. Social solidarity and common values seem to be dissipating.

7. The stock market seems perched precariously high and the number of workers is oddly low, our institutions wobble.

Mix this brew together, and people are wondering if our good life will long continue.

Fear is just beneath the surface of many a person.

A 2021 survey of 16-25 year-olds showed that 70% think the future is frightening; and 35% said humanity is doomed. Our journalists are convinced it is their moral duty to accentuate peril and danger. There is nervousness in the collective psyche.

Unhealthy fear is a phobia.

An unreasonable fear of getting sick or getting mugged shrinks people inward. A disordered fear of impoverishment produces greed. An unwillingness to live and to work for fear of your health and safety has spawned a new term: "safetyism."

The result is a coddled timidity and small lives. Is it self-love — "man curved in upon himself?" Is an "abundance of caution" the right approach to life? Sometimes. However ...


Let's at least balance the anxiety with hope. Fear need not dominate us.

St. Thomas said that hope puts fear in its proper place. Perhaps anxieties have mounted in the West because hope has declined.

For many, "sustainability" has replaced progress. That's a meager hope; a desperate word, not a "can do" word.

If risk-aversion is supreme, then life and goodness are thwarted. Shall we just live a gray and grim and isolated existence?

Nope — don't do it. Do not recoil from loving, obeying and serving.

Have a little fortitude. Go for it. No personal bunker for your hunker is strong enough to save you.

You may know that the most common command in the Scripture is "do not fear" or its parallel — "be not afraid."

It was said to Isaac in the face of hostility (Genesis 26:24), to the Hebrews on their way to the promised land (Deuteronomy 1:21), to the remnant threatened by the Assyrians (Isaiah 10:24), to Mary when told of her pregnancy (Luke 1:30), to the shepherds on Christmas (Luke 2:10), to Jesus' followers when threatened (Matthew 10:26), to Jairus upon getting bad news regarding his daughter (Mark 5:36), and to the women on Easter morning (Matthew 28:10). Be not afraid. "Have no fear, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (Luke 12:32). He who defeated death itself will surely see you through.

So sure, be aware and smart about environmental dangers, political perils, personal risks and foreign threats, but be not afraid. There is great spiritual danger in fear itself.

Ask your Master to grant you the fortitude to live your days in His service.

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Chris Brekke is a retired pastor who served Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester for 13 years and Trinity Lutheran in West Concord for 10. He and his wife live in Roseville, Minn., where he keeps busy with volunteering, church and family.

"From the Pulpit" features reflections from area religious leaders. To contribute, email us at with "From the Pulpit" in the subject line.

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