Fear Factory

Aug 02, 2007 |Gary Thomas

Drown out cries of "teotwawki!" with Christ's "peace!"

Back in the '70s, just before I started middle school, a number of prominent scientists were predicting a terrifying ice age that would cast all of earth's inhabitants into a frozen icebox. When their forecast hit the cover of Time magazine, the most authoritative voice at the time, we all thought we were done for.

About the time that the impending ice age dropped off the headlines, my friends and I were alarmed by a more immediate threat: Killer bees were working their way up South America and were on the threshold of entering the southern United States. These bees were relentless, all but unstoppable, and cruelly attacked their victims with thousands of poisonous stings. It was only a matter of time until their malice made its way up north to Washington State.

The killer bees never actually made it up here, but by the time I realized we were safe, I heard just as alarming news in church. A best-selling 1970s Christian author talked about The Late, Great Planet Earth, and though he never put a date in his million-plus selling book, I heard him speak and suggest that this would all culminate sometime in the '80s.... The earth, as we knew it, was done for.

In my high school geography class, I was warned — as was the entire nation through a plethora of mega-selling books — of the certain coming wreck due to overpopulation. "The Population Bomb" became the catchphrase of the day; simply put, we were having too many kids, and the world couldn't support the increasing numbers. We'd be cast into certain famine by the turn of the century, and be eating all the animals (and maybe even people) just to stay alive. Those who dared to have more than one or two kids were guilty of a gross callousness; it was considered socially irresponsible to contribute to the "population problem." The more caring decided to make the "brave" choice not to have children at all. Those who kept building families, of course, were obviously motivated by a callous selfishness.

But hey, we were all about to die anyway. Just on the horizon was the inevitable nuclear holocaust! One organization put us at just a minute or two before dreaded midnight, and when a major television network ran The Day After, with its overwhelming sense of both the inevitability and the bitter devastation of nuclear attack, well, you can understand why so many of us never thought we'd get married and have kids. The world was going to end long before we reached our 20s.

Well, maybe not — but the economic structure of the world would soon implode. One of the best-selling Christian books of the '80s forecast an economic collapse that would begin with U.S. bankruptcy and reach into the entire world. The author saw little chance of us avoiding such a dire fate, and warned us to prepare for something that would make the great depression look like the golden years. This compelling volume won the Book of the Year award from the Christian publishing industry, giving it even more credibility. At the time, no one knew that we were about to enter one of the greatest economic growth periods in U.S. history.

But then we learned how this growth was going to be undercut by our own cleverness. The ice age didn't seem like it was so inevitable anymore. The killer bees never quite became the threat we thought they would be. Population didn't seem to be killing us, no nuclear winter surrounded us, and economically, the Dow was now inching toward 10,000. But our computers would be the death of us! Y2K would wipe out every advancement we had made. The PC was a stealthy enemy, just waiting to throw planes out of the sky, automatically launch nuclear weapons from their silos, throw our entire economic system into complete chaos, and destroy virtually every machine and business that used a calculator. We spent billions upon billions of dollars trying to prepare for this horrendous fate — and as far as I can tell, the worst thing that happened when 1999 inched into the year 2000 was that two alarm clocks in Australia ran out of batteries just before we hit midnight.

But no matter. We may have survived (just barely) these dire predictions, but what we face now is more certain, more scientific, and more sinister. Global Warming (or "Climate Change") is going to eat us up. And even if we all get rid of our cars, start walking and riding horses, we may have already passed the "tipping point." Hold on, people, doom is just around the corner....

Been There, Done That, and Refusing to Do it Again

Pardon me if I'm skeptical. As a 45-year-old man, I've been through this too many times. There was scientific "consensus" over the coming ice age, overpopulation, Y2K devastation and economic collapse. In my little mind, Chicken Little has screamed once too often. The arguments are too familiar. The passion has been done before, and I am refusing to drink the social Kool-Aid that seems to be poisoning so many minds. The Fear Factory has spun too many tales already for me to be sucked into yet another one.

Thankfully, God helped open my eyes when, over 20 years ago, I was blessed to sit under the teaching of a godly and wise man named Dr. J.I. Packer. His book, Knowing God, had already become a classic. During a conversation, Dr. Packer said something to me offhand that helped me look at the United States from an entirely new light. I can't remember his exact words, but the gist of it was this: "The United States' media goes from crisis to crisis. You live in a perpetual state of impending doom. In many ways, your country seems to feed off of fear." As a U.K. citizen living just across the U.S./Canadian border, Dr. Packer had an objective perch from which to critique my country — and he was spot-on accurate.

Our media, our educational system, and even our churches do indeed "feed off of fear." It's like we don't feel alive unless we are gripped and even obsessed with the latest impending threat. Our agenda isn't the advancement of God's kingdom — on the contrary, all our energy is sucked into worrying about, and trying to stave off, the next "certain" catastrophe.

As God's people, we're called to live a life of focused purpose, seeking first God's kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We can't do this if we listen to the fear mongers who scream at us on a daily basis to pay attention! We're all perishing!

Living by a different agenda doesn't mean we can be reckless with the environment or our finances and expect God to remove all consequences, but it does mean we need to be anchored by a certain unshakeable fate. Faith in God spares us from the fate of the unbelieving. Just look around you, and you'll see that when a culture stops believing in God's sovereign care, they become victims of their own fears, trapped by their own futility, and plagued by a complete collapse of peace. How do some of these people muster the courage to even wake up in the morning?

God's people wake up because God greets us each day with his providential care and divine concern. His mercies are "new every morning." We have a responsibility to model hopeful reliance and resting trust. Because of our belief in God as creator and caring shepherd, we are certainly armed to defend ourselves against silly notions, such as the thought that having babies threatens our future, or that buying carbon offsets is a better investment than supporting our local church, Focus on the Family or a missionary.

Words of Wisdom, Words of Peace

In his classic Knowing God, Packer unpacks the practical nature of basic theology. For instance, instead of worrying about catastrophes overtaking us, we find refuge in the teaching that God will use life challenges to build us up. "We are confronted with the wisdom of God ordering the events of a human life for a double purpose: the man's own personal sanctification, and the fulfilling of his appointed ministry ..." (pg. 86).

God's wisdom — His ability to rule the world even when we don't see how He might use something that seems so terrible — leads us to another cherished trait: biblical peace.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was born to bring us peace. When announcing Jesus' birth to the Shepherds, the angels sang: "On Earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14). Jesus was explicit with His disciples: "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).

Did you catch that? Jesus says, do not let your hearts be troubled. He's given His Holy Spirit to us as our comforter and counselor (John 14:26). We do not need to fall prey to the fear factory mentality of our culture. Instead, we can rest on a solid truth that rules above every headline, every threat and even every catastrophe: As God's children, His favor and all that that implies rests on us.

Set free by Christ, we are released to truly think instead of just accept culture's latest obsession. I love Oliver Cromwell's boldness when he once loudly proclaimed, "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

It takes God's wisdom, God's courage and God's peace for believers to stand up against a very loud culture and say, "We're not drinking the culture's fear-laced Kool-Aid! Instead, we're drinking from the living, life-giving and soul-soothing water of Jesus Christ."

Take a breath. Say a prayer. Worship God. The world needs to witness our peace and then hear our testimony — now, before it's too late, and doom overtakes us!

Copyright 2007 Gary Thomas. All rights reserved.

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