Stephanie Neville, who works with asylum seekers in Birmingham, reflects on the appearance of phrase 'Do not be afraid' in scripture, and what it might mean for us.
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27
The words "do not be afraid" appear over and over again throughout the bible.
For what it's worth, I don't believe this is because faith in God is some kind of magical cure for being afraid. On the contrary, the constant repetition of the command to not be afraid suggests that fear is very real: an innate human response to many of the situations which confront us. It is repeated as a command precisely because it doesn't come naturally, it is something that has to be actively chosen, and tirelessly worked at.
But I believe it is also repeated endlessly because it is necessary: it is part of our calling as followers of Jesus.
We live in a world which wants us to be afraid: afraid of one another, afraid even of ourselves. Maybe 'twas ever thus, but whatever was the case in the past, it is certainly true today that we are bombarded with messages of fear. Messages of fear that say we have no choice but to lock our doors and keep our heads down and only talk to those we know and trust. Messages of fear that remind us, regretfully perhaps, that we must "protect" our own interests even at the expense of others. Messages of fear that encourage us to be constantly suspicious of the unknown.
It is this fear prevents people from building relationships with one another and which tears communities apart. It is this fear which keeps individuals trapped behind locked doors, communities cowering behind barbed wire topped walls, and countries hidden behind arsenals of increasingly terrifying weaponry.
It is this fear which is so often the root of that which manifests itself on the surface as hate.
It is this fear to which society wants us to succumb. It is succumbing to this fear which the bible so consistently warns against.
A radical commitment to the Gospel, then, is to not allow ourselves to be dragged into a culture of fear. The opposite of fear, the force by which it can be overcome, is love. Radical faith in a loving God means to dare to not be afraid.
I am not there yet, but I am determined to aspire to the fearlessness to which I am called by faith. The fearlessness to look into the eyes of others rather than down at my toes. The fearlessness to smile and offer a welcome to people not like me. The fearlessness to believe more war and weapons are not the answer. The fearlessness to keep believing that we can build a better world.
This is not naivety. It is deliberate choice. It is a choice founded firmly in a life of prayer which allows me to know increasingly deeply the joy of being loved. It is a choice to allow that love to permeate my life and influence the decisions I make about how I engage with the world around me. It is a choice I will try to make and remake each day.
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18