Theology and Fear


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

I've been thinking a lot about fear recently.

It started last week at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, when bestselling author Mary Karr asked an audience of writers, “What would you write if you had no fear?”

I knew instantly that such a question had the power to transform and enliven my writing, that it would undoubtedly end up on a hot-pink sticky note above my desk, and that its implications extended far beyond the printed page.  For the next logical question is of course, “How would you live if you had no fear?”

Frankly, my initial reaction to both of these questions frightened me a little, for it involved asking harder questions about faith, confronting deeper insecurities within myself, and creeping farther down the dark rabbit holes of doubt that lie in wait in all the scary corners of my mind…which made me wonder, “Is hope really the thing that keeps me from disbelief? Or is it fear?”

Then, when I got home, Dan and I watched the movie “The Invention of Lying,” an okay film based off of a brilliant concept—mankind has yet to evolve the capacity to lie until one man (Ricky Gervais) tells the first. If you’ve seen it, you know that the movie touches on the human fear of death and implies that God, heaven, and hell are lies created to ease these fears. It’s not exactly a nuanced point (hopefully Gervais will eventually learn to direct without a 2x4), but it struck a chord because I often wonder if I would still be a Christian were it not for my fear of death.

And finally, today I came across an intriguing post by Donald Miller (who has been on quite the blogging streak recently), in which he asks if our personalities influence our theology. He uses Calvinism as an example, noting, “Have you ever noticed Calvinists think in black and white? And I’m not just talking about their theology, I mean they think in black and white about everything.” He goes on to suggest that perhaps our ideas about God correspond to our various positions on the Enneagram. [*See my first comment for my response to Miller's generalized statement about Calvinists.]

I’m glad Miller wrote on the subject because I’ve always noticed a tendency for certain personalities (including my own) to correspond with certain theological positions, particularly when it comes to the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. But as I worked on my comment after Miller’s post, I got to thinking about the role that fear plays in our respective positions on this particular issue. As I said in the comment, “I can’t help but wonder if the Calvinist’s deepest fear is things not being in control, while the Arminian’s deepest fear is being controlled. One is afraid of chaos, the other afraid of imprisonment.”

We’d all like to think that we live and work and pray from a center that is full of bravery and hope—(and when I think of the times when I have really stepped out in faith to follow Jesus, I think that perhaps we can indeed summon these virtues from time to time)—but I wonder if to deny the role that fear plays in our art, our faith, and our theology is to deny one of those dark but universal things that, deep down, we all have in common.

What about you? What are you most afraid of? How does fear play a role in your lifestyle, your faith, or your theology?

And have you ever thought about how you would live if you had no fear?

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