An Answer to Fear

The triggers vary, the question remains the same. You’ve probably asked it yourself: What are we going to do? A political set-back, a cultural catastrophe — we have to do something, and quickly. Time is running out. And if you are raising children in this culture, the sense of urgency is acute.

What are we going to do?

You hate the tinge of fear in your voice. We are not called to fear, after all. We’re called to love. Whichever way the wind blows, we are called to rejoice in the Lord.

We are not called to fear, after all. We’re called to love.

Some say we must storm the gates of Mordor—“This day we fight!”—while others, like Boccaccio’s storytellers in the Decameron, seek out somewhere safe to escape the ravages of the plague. These responses feel right in the moment, yet they don’t stop the question being asked again. They do not ultimately satisfy. Indulging fear never does.

The answer I propose isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t belligerent. It doesn’t get our kids out of harm’s way. What are we going to do? If you ask me, the only answer is to read.

More specifically, to read the Bible, and to read it like we never have before. Let’s teach ourselves to become deep, intimate readers of Scripture. Let’s pursue the level of immersion that changes the book in your hand from a way to pass time into a force that shapes you.

The larger the Bible looms in your imagination . . . the less prone you are to assume that whatever seems true to the people around you must, in fact, be true.

I began teaching the Bible about fifteen years ago. Despite having grown up in church, despite years of Christian education, despite the rewards they received for memorization, my students relied mainly on second-hand knowledge of Scripture. They had strong opinions about things the Bible supposedly taught, but to support these views the most they could do was cite a handful of proof texts and some hand-me-down philosophy. I was in no position to judge. I recognized too much of myself in them.

Whether we admit it or not, we are products of our culture, formed by the times. Scripture can be an anchor to the eternal, yet only to those who are formed by it. The intimate knowledge of the Bible, which I am proposing as an answer to our fears, is the kind that makes the Word of God into your book. It becomes your frame of reference, defines your terms. More than that, it shapes your desires, your loves. This knowledge is contextual: it turns what appear to be cryptic aphorisms into a unified whole, each part informing the others. It is systematic, too: you recognize the interconnected doctrines, trace back the symbols to what they signify. Errant dogma of the church or the world no longer rings true.

The larger the Bible looms in your imagination, the more skeptical you become of the spirit of the age, the less prone you are to assume that whatever seems true to the people around you must, in fact, be true. Yet the real benefit is that access to uncomfortable joy that only the Bible as your companion can provide.

The proliferation of Bible studies in the modern church is a good thing, but I wish they were more like book groups and less like self-help therapy. We need to talk less about ourselves and more about the text.

To pursue such a program, you need three things: a Bible, some structured time, and the companionship of fellow readers. Rather than getting stuck on translation questions—which is most accurate? which is easiest to read?—focus on Bibles designed for readability. We happen to live in promising times where reader-friendly editions of Scripture are concerned. Biblica’s The Books of the Bible, Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible (available in one volume or, for the ideal reading experience, six), and the forthcoming release of Bibliotheca all give you plenty of choices when it comes to Bibles designed for deep reading. Single column, paragraphed editions are increasingly common, too.

First you have to carve out the time, for yourself or your children. That’s not easy to do. We are all over-programmed, which means our free hours are increasingly precious, not to be sacrificed without a fight. Like any discipline, however, this one takes time. Don’t expect love to come prior to discipline. Form the habit first, and the love will come.

It helps if you’re not alone. The proliferation of Bible studies in the modern church is a good thing, but I wish they were more like book groups and less like self-help therapy. We need to talk less about ourselves and more about the text. Parents hoping to instill the discipline in young believers will have to jump in themselves. It’s hard to pass down what you haven’t inherited.

. . . we should study to suffer well and make all our sacrifices the stuff of praise. The Bible will teach us how to live at odds with our world, and to do it joyfully.

If the concern is for Christian discipleship, faithfulness in days to come, I cannot conceive of a better answer than to be better readers of Holy Scripture. Everything else of value flows from this, and whatever doesn’t cannot help. One of the things that makes it a satisfying answer is that it brings the problem with the original question into focus.

What do we do about this? How do we fix it? How do we avoid it?

Scripture will tell you these are the wrong questions to ask. The way to approach suffering and sacrifice is not to look for the exit, not to fight your way around the edges. Rather, we should study to suffer well and make all our sacrifices the stuff of praise. The Bible will teach us how to live at odds with our world, and to do it joyfully. The fact that we struggle to remember this suggests that the real distance that ought to concern us is not between the culture and the church, but between the church and the Word. Fearful as we are, it’s time to remember that in Scripture we have an answer to fear.

The Case Against Reference Bibles – worldview.org

Embracing Exile – worldview.org

Don’t Panic – worldview.org

J. Mark Bertrand
Novelist & Writer at jmarkbertrand.com
J. Mark Bertrand is a “major crime fiction talent” according to the Weekly Standard, which compares his three novels––"Back on Murder," "Pattern of Wounds," and "Nothing to Hide"––with the work of Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin. Mark’s nonfiction book "Rethinking Worldview" is taught in university and seminary classrooms, and is the basis for a number of his lectures. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Houston, and has lectured on theology and culture for more than a decade at Worldview Academy. Mark and his wife Laurie live in South Dakota.

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