Fear is the ground in which anger, bitterness, resentment, and the destruction of human community fester, producing a plant which seldom bears life-giving fruit.

I respond to you with fear because I feel you have the power to take from me something I believe I cannot afford to lose.

I am afraid when I feel small and vulnerable. I feel fearful when I am forced to confront the reality that life is out of my control.

In his magnificent sermon based on the Book of Job, Terrence Malick has the preacher in his movie “The Tree of Life,” boldly confront the reality of human vulnerability. The preacher says,

Job imagined he might build his nest on high – that the integrity of his behavior would protect him against misfortune. And his friends thought, mistakenly, that the Lord could only have punished him because secretly he’d done something wrong.

But, no, misfortune befalls the good as well. We can’t protect ourselves against it. We can’t protect our children. We can’t say to ourselves, even if I’m not happy, I’m going to make sure they are.

We vanish as a cloud. We wither as the autumn grass, and like a tree are rooted up.

We cannot avoid the fragile reality of the human condition. We live every moment a fraction from disaster. As Malick puts it in his Job sermon,

There is no hiding place in all the world where trouble may not find you. No one knows when sorrow might visit his house, any more than Job did.

We might be fulfilling a life-long dream sitting in a cafe in Paris, when terror strikes. We cannot know; we can never predict; we are not in control. If there is nothing greater than the horror, then fear is the only logical response to the vicissitudes of life.

Fear thrives in the land of doubt, insecurity, and unfamiliarity. I clutch and grab at the illusion of control because I do not want to face the uncertain realities of my life.  My tone of voice is sharp and clipped as I try to control the world with my words. My muscles tense; my heart races. I want to name the threatening enemy. I want to find a way to regain my faltering sense of safety and security no matter what the cost may be to the one I blame for making me feel afraid.

There must be some alternative to living as a perpetual victim of my fears.

The epistle writer known as “John” in the New Testament suggests,

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (I John 4:18)

Love and fear cannot coexist. Love is the antidote to fear because love knows there is always something bigger than anything I might ever fear.

Terrence Malick’s preacher goes on to ask,

Is there nothing which is deathless? Nothing which does not pass away?

The preacher then affirms,

We must find that which is greater than fortune or fate. Nothing can bring us peace but that.

Faith affirms that love is greater and more lasting than all the horror, terror, violence, injustice, and pain that ravage the world. I will only find peace when I open to the reality of this love in the deepest part of my being.

The world will move towards greater peace, not with guns and bombs, but with hearts that acknowledge the fragile realities of life and open to the possibility of a love that is greater than anything we might ever fear. Let’s try this program for a while and see if it works any better than the tired vicious strategies we have so often followed in the past.

fear ****************

To read the whole of Terrence Malick’s sermon on The Book of Job go here: https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-tree-of-life-17-terrence-malicks-job-sermon/

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