One of my priests once gave a wonderful sermon, full of passion and anger and sorrow and doubt, and the one line that really stuck with me was: “My fear is sin because it hides my lack of faith”. The thought shook me to my core; it was so true that I was shocked I’d never realized it before. Fear is, at its core, a feeling of doubt that is unsettling because it cannot be described, rationalized, or even identified.
Father Leclaire was specifically discussing how, for instance, if I were to fear death it would be a sin, because my faith tells me that I should not fear death. More generally though, fear can be found in a lot of decisions where fear should not be the dominating motivation. For example: love. Love is at increased risk of being suffocated by fear, because love can only exist with trust. And yet loving people is risky, because there is such a high risk of being taken advantage of and of being disappointed. It feels naive to be trusting enough to love. And the more we trust and the more we love, the more it hurts and the more embarrassing it is if that love and trust is abused.
There was a news story a while back which stuck with me, about a cop in NYC who bought boots with his own money on a cold day for a man who appeared to be homeless and shoeless. Since then there have been several follow-up news stories: one claiming that the shoeless man had stopped using the shoes and the other claiming that the shoeless man was not actually homeless. I don’t condemn news agencies for doing follow-up stories, but I do wonder what people are going to take from the stories. Speaking personally, I don’t often give money to charity. In part, that is because I have no money. However, even when I have decided to donate my Christmas or birthday money to a charity, I have gone through a long process of reading up on the charity and understanding its percentage overhead costs, its affiliated organizations, the actual mission and mandate of the organization, as well as how the money gets distributed. After Hurricane Harvey, I saw a lot of people who had similar concerns about donating to the Red Cross. Similarly, conservatives object to many social welfare programs due to perceived inefficiencies of the programs. These are all natural concerns, in part because nobody has money to just be throwing away, especially when people are in urgent need of help. However, when we let these suspicions get the best of us, we risk elevating cynicism to a virtue and lionizing frugality at the expense of celebrating generosity.
It comes down to the fear that if I do something good, it will be negated by someone else doing something bad. But the truth is that what I do or what you do that is good is inherently good. The bad thing that someone else does doesn’t cancel out the good that we do. The love brought into the world by the people who risked their own safety to ensure the safety of others in Texas during Harvey is no less beautiful just because some other people took the opportunity to loot. The glory that places of worship bring to God when they open their doors to refugees is not muted by the places of worship that prey on marginalized people. I’ve been hurt and abused and disappointed, but any one moment of true love and friendship I’ve experienced is worth a lifetime of vulnerability. As the saying goes, with great risk comes great reward.
My fear is sin, because it hides my lack of faith. My fear is sin because it means that I might not open my heart to someone else at the risk of having my heart broken or that I might hesitate to help someone for fear that I am being duped. There’s nothing wrong with doubt; in fact, I would advocate strongly for a healthy dose of caution. However, we would be well advised to acknowledge that our doubt has a measurable cost, and that that cost is very often greater than the value of our pride.
To miss out on love, for the sake of fear is the greatest victory of evil over the divine.
Posted in: Faith