Over the weeks I’ve noticed people increasingly taking social distancing to new levels. Today as I rode by a gentlemen going in the opposite way, he stepped several feet out of the path, took a deep breath, turned his back to me as I rolled by, and then went back to his walk.
I understand his gesture completely. I get it. He’s afraid. A huge portion of world is paralyzed with fear. We are glued to our feeds and the media machine talks nonstop about death rates, the curve, social distancing, masks, droplets, asymptomatic carriers, and on and on it goes.
As the economy begins to open up, the fear propaganda machine is in overdrive making us afraid of the virus or afraid of economic ruin. Both are here and very real. It does us no good to “pick a team” here. People look to the government to help out, but as cities lose tax revenue their ability to help wanes. The economy will kill more than the virus if left to run this course. Both are deadly and there is no where to escape.
I’d like to invite you to stop, pull back and look deeper. If you can, see beyond the virus spread, the loss of loved ones, of our incomes, our 401Ks, and or future.
If we go a bit deeper, we discover we are not afraid of the disease, we are afraid of death or the loss of our lives. It’s either death of our bodies, a loved one, or the death of our business, our livelihoods, our economy, our world. We fear the death of life as we know it. This seems obvious but when we fail to address our true fear, it makes us weird, even a bit psychotic, because we are not actually dealing with reality, we are preventing ourself from dealing with reality by focusing on the antecedent to the real problem.
Can we get real?
We are all aware that each of us will die someday. We hope for long life, but people die every day for countless reasons. We get that on a cognitive level, but we push this reality to the periphery. Our fear of death rises as the potential threat gains proximity to us. Drive a car at the speed limit, the threat is minimal. Drive at four times the speed limit and our fear of death comes closer. A lion in a cage–no problem. Cage door open–problem. When death comes closer, or is knocking at the door, death moves from the cognitive level to the existential level.
That’s where we are now. For many, death is crouching outside the door.
Fear of death is the “check engine” light which indicates we have deeper, soul level work that we have not taken care of. The false self is afraid to die, as it very well should be, because apart from surface distractions of life, there is nothing beyond it. We fear we will orphan our kids, lose our station in life, the humiliation of our decline, or be set back too far to recover. All of these things can and should be dealt with as part of our living, but we deflect it because it exposes our weaknesses. It’s painful to scour the depths of our pseudonym, so instead we skim over the surface with niceties, well wishes, and hopeful avoidance.
We’re in good company. The blind leading the blind.
I’m going to lay down another layer here and I don’t want you to bail on me until I’ve explained it. I’m hoping you can connect the dots for your own healing.
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:4-7)
Hold on. Don’t leave yet. I’m not going where you probably think I am. This is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the Bible. Almost every bible teacher I know interprets this as an admonition to fear God because he can throw you into hell. This verse is NOT saying that. In fact, it’s teaching the exact opposite, so please, pay attention.
Jesus is revealing two important things: First, what not to fear. Second, what to fear. I’ll deal with each in turn.
First, we are not to fear our death. The implication here is thus to NOT fear God. The passage clearly explains (v.6-7) that God deeply cares for things which seem insignificant such as sparrows or hairs. It goes on to say that we are much more valued by God than such things. DO NOT FEAR GOD. Do not fear death. Do not fear losing life as you know it.
Trust and be with what is. (This is known as presence, enlightenment, faith, sovereignty, acceptance, etc…)
Death is not stopping, it is a transfiguration. It is a change in dimension, not the end of our true life. The true part of us that lasts after death is the part that was always with God in eternity past and cannot be lost. Death is the ultimate separator which removes our false self from us. Right now each of us deals with God (reality) on our own terms, but after death we will deal with God (Ultimate Reality) on God’s terms and that is not a threat nor something to fear. This is possible by keeping our death (any loss of life) as existentially present and not logically potential.
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:4)
Second, fear him who has the authority, after he has killed, to cast into hell. This passage is almost always read eisegetically (meaning inserted into the text, not extracted from the text). We see the word hell and think of Dantés Inferno or Hollywood horror films and we assume Jesus is saying the same thing. If we make that assumption, then of course we conclude he’s talking about God.
Good hermeneutics (science of interpretation) requires that contextual meaning (culturally and textually) be considered first. We saw already that textually, the clear bent of Jesus message is God’s unmeasurable concern and love for us. The larger context reveals Jesus is warning about institutional powers or religion. Why would Jesus say to fear Church and State? Culturally, Gehenna (Greek word for Hell) was the city dump just outside of Jerusalem. It was the place of the most marginalized, the forgotten, those deemed worthless, and those without means and community to afford a good burial. Refuse, bodies and waste was all put there and burned with the smoke always rising in the distance.
This cultural picture allows us to see clearly the intent of Jesus message. The one to fear, is the authority who can kill. In his case that was institutional power. While religion had the will to kill, under Rome it couldn’t do it. So Jesus is referring to the rule of the State. The institution of the State can not only kill you socially, economically, but also physically. If it deems you to not be valuable, it can dispose of you with no questions asked. The State can take your life or livelihood as it wills. It can kill under the guise of saving lives. Jesus is telling us to fear the over reaching power of the State.
The State is more to be feared than our physical death.
Applying this is obvious. Rather than fear and distrust the rule of the State, our world has entrusted itself increasingly more and more to it. The result is a society of fearful dependents, rather than a liberated and empowered people. The longer we fear the loss of our life, the more dependent we are upon institutional power. This is the trajectory of every human life, in every time, and in all cultures. The gospel (good news) is the voice that awakens us and frees us from this prison unto a true and liberated self.
I’m not vilifying our government, but I don’t trust it either. My suggestion to us is that we recognize that the authority over us is in place there by God. (Romans 13:1-6) Let us heed the best advice that we can and do our individual part to make things better. But that is not enough. We must grow up and get over our loss of life, for that is when we actually find it.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
If you have soul work to do, then do it. If you need to have a talk with your kids, spouse, or loved ones about your future demise, then have the talk. If you need to make a contingency plan for your death, then do it. Set your house in order. Don’t delay. Don’t wait for the distractions to begin again. Deal with your crap. Do it now. Today.
If you do, and you can find it in your heart to trust the words of Jesus that we need not fear our death, then I assure you, the result will be a liberated, authentic life. A life where you are free to be with what is, rather than always kicking against the thorns. Then you will be ready to serve the world and not fear COVID-19, nor the economy, nor the next thing, nor anything.
Your life will be free of fear. That is what it means to live by faith.
Internal, existential freedom, allows us to step into and begin serving in a life with COVID, cancer, accidents, violence, and suffering. It’s also reveals the dancing, celebration, connection and joy, knowing that the love of God is such that each of these is beautiful in their time and teach us what life is really all about, and it’s not all here.
We don’t fear COVID, we fear the freedom of living on God’s terms.