On Fear

You will die.

Given a choice, I usually ask for the bad news first. I feel it makes the good news taste sweeter. But that is some pretty bad news. Or is it? It does present some interesting possibilities. Certainly, recognizing reality is not without value. Everyone dies.

It was this recognition of the reality that caused some Christians in the middle ages to popularize an older Latin saying. Memento Mori. “Remember your death.” In their artwork, you can usually find a skeleton lurking in the background and holding a scythe, waiting for his next inevitable harvest. It might have been the Black Death (Bubonic plague), a neighboring warlord, famine, or righteous recompense for crimes committed. But all in all, it doesn’t matter. Death is waiting for you.

After taking inventory, we could ask how we should spend your remaining moments. But before we do (or don’t do) anything, Scripture has some instructions on the matter. For instance, if we feel inclined to “get it all over with”, Scripture in no way condones us effecting our own departure, but rather commands us to leave life in the hands of God (Phil. 1:21-25). Alternatively, perhaps we want to savor and extend every second of existence. Or, let’s put it another way; What would you sacrifice to lengthen your life? Some methods of self-preservation aren’t worth it. That is to say, some things are worse than death (Matt. 16:25-26).

I ask how the thought of death makes us feel so that we can see how much fear drives us. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – FDR. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” – Nelson Mandela. “Bravery comes along as a gradual accumulation of discipline.” – Buzz Aldrin. Great quotes one and all, but more importantly…

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” – 2 Tim. 1:7. Now, in case we are tempted to think that Paul was sitting safely in his ivory tower when he said that, we must be reminded that Paul knew he was going to die soon (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The way is scary, and no one should deny that, but the way must be traveled. Thankfully, Paul gives Timothy several tools to aid in the journey. Absorb Scripture (1:13; 3:14-17). Avoid bad influences (3:1-5). Do good work (2:1-7). Trust Jesus (1:10, 12; 2:8, 11-13; 4:8). With this power, love, and self-control, he invites Timothy to follow him to the grave and not be scared. Ultimately, Paul says nothing different than our Lord, because he himself was following Jesus to his death (Acts 21:13). “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Memento Mori. Remember your death.