The Problem of Fear in our Politics
One of the problems in modern American politics is fear—so says a host of articles, commentators and academics. It seems every time I listen to a political interview or news story, someone raises the subject of fear.
In a recent PBS News Hour interview, Martha Nussbaum, professor at the University of Chicago and author of “The Monarchy of Fear,” a book exploring the 2016 election, said, “Fear connects us to the bad… (and) it’s always been thought to be a terrible problem for democracy.”
Professor Nussbaum goes on to say, “What happens when fear gets into the works is… (it) makes us turn against targets that are not real… People are being stampeded by their emotions, and they’re not stopping to figure things out and to work on the real problems.”
Political leaders attempt to address the problem of fear in politics. In a world filled with danger, President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His encouragement regrettably faded, and fear again grips our politics.
We need lasting solutions to fear and not just momentary help from political leadership.
The Bible’s Solution for Fear
The Bible’s answer to fear begins with trusting God and drawing near to His presence. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).
He’s closer than we imagine because God’s Spirit dwells within us. The Bible then teaches that fear itself is driven out by love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18).
Christians have no reason to give in to fear if the solution to fear is perfect love. The Bible teaches that God Himself is love, and He resides in our own hearts.
Driving out fear so we can address the real problems should be exactly what Christians bring to politics. The key is understanding how perfect love works.
When I encounter a person who is difficult to love, even someone who angrily disagrees with me, I don’t find it within myself to somehow respond with love. Love is not some mysterious substance I possess by being strong, good or well-adjusted enough.
The Apostle Paul writes that God’s Spirit brings many things into a Christian’s life, beginning with love. Love exists outside of me, first of all in the very nature of God. When Paul writes that the fruit of the spirit is love, he means for me to know that God provides the love I need to show. This is true in politics and everyday life.
- For the person in political opposition, God says you can debate them with civility and compassion. Love is not arrogant, boastful, rude or self-seeking.
- For a person who wrongs me, God says you can forgive just as you were forgiven. Love keeps no records of wrongs.
Replacing Fear with the Face of God
We read in 1 John 4:11, “Dear friends, if God loved us in this way we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God.” But, John teaches, “if we love one another, then God’s love is made complete, the unseen becomes seen.”
Victor Hugo, the great novelist who wrote Les Miserable captures this idea of love so well, writing, “And remember the truth, that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”
It is not in receiving love, but in loving another person that we see the face of God, as Hugo put it. The unseen made visible at any moment, and you don’t have to wait for it; it’s waiting for you to love another person.
Fear in politics can be driven out and replaced by the very face of God when the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, show the love of God.