Friday, August 06, 2010

The impossibility of fear

“The first thing that must be said, and which can never be said powerfully and triumphantly enough, is that human fear has been completely and definitively conquered by the Cross. Anxiety is one of the authorities, powers, and dominions over which the Lord triumphed on the Cross, and which he carried off captive and placed in chains, to make use of as he wills. In the Old Covenant, too, there was a powerful command: ‘Fear not!’ But this command was challenged in various ways within the process of revelation: by the finiteness of the region illuminated by grace, by the fact that the grace that had been granted was characterised by hope for what had not yet arrived, by the incomprehensible threat of darkness breaking into the region of light despite the guarantees, and finally by man’s relapse again and again into sin. Christ removed both the finitude of grace and its modality of hope when he tore down the dividing wall between heaven and earth (by his Incarnation), between earth and the netherworld (by his salvific suffering and his descent into hell), and between the chosen people and the unchosen Gentiles (by his founding of the Church) and when the Father established him as the light of the whole world and the king of all three realms (Philippians 2.11). Thereby every reason the redeemed might have for fear has been invalidated. The ‘world’, which as a kingdom of darkness stared Christ in the face at his coming and yet was ‘conquered’ by him (John 16.33), has no more claim on the Christian. Neither can any of the ‘elements of the world’, those ancient ‘principalities’, ‘powers’, ‘rulers of the world’, and whatever else Paul may call the known and unknown principles of the created cosmos, in whatever dimension they may be and however they themselves may be disposed towards Christ their Sovereign – neither can any of these be cause for anxiety. And ‘the last enemy to be destroyed’, death, is not exempt from this victory (1 Corinthians 15.26), nor is the devil himself who ‘now’, in the tribunal of the Cross, has been ‘cast out’ (John 12.31) – those twin powers which until then had held the sinner in unbreakable bonds and of which he could only be afraid. From one end of the New Covenant to the other, from the ‘great light’ that dawns in the Gospel to the final victory of the Logos in the Apocalypse, we hear of this subjection and dismantling of all worldly powers under the Son of God, who was chosen from all eternity to be their king. And since this lordship has been entered upon once for all, and the Victor merely ‘waits until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet’ (Hebrews 10.13), anxiety too has been banished and overcome once and for all. And this is so not merely in a juridical sense and by rights, but, for those who belong to Christ, ontologically and essentially. Insofar as he posses the life of faith, the Christian can no longer fear. His bad conscience, which makes him tremble, has been overtaken and girded up by the ‘peace of God, which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4.7). On Easter day Peter can no longer fear the One whom he has betrayed three times. His anxiety has been taken away, and confident love has been granted him in its place. John knows this most profoundly: ‘[although] our hearts condemn us […], God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (1 John 3.20): he knows about the love he has poured into the erring heart through the Holy Spirit, a love against which all the self-accusation of the sinner cannot prevail: ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (John 21.17). The sinner surrenders, he no longer has any hope of countering, with something of his own or with anything else, the abundance of this hope that has been granted to him.”

- Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian and Anxiety
(trans. Dennis D Martin and Michel J. Miller; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000 [1952]), 81-84.

Balthasar has plenty more to say about fear and its place in the Christian life, but this is where he (and we) must begin: the old power of fear is broken. For the Christian, it is a defeated force; no longer is it a master of our minds or behaviour, but a mere servant.

And this is the key point for Balthasar. Utterly vanquished, fear still has a role to play even (and especially) in the obedient Christian life. But that is for another day. To begin with, it is crucial to allow oneself to soak in this reality. Whatever reason there was to fear has dissolved, whatever cause for anxiety, it is embraced and held in the love of the crucified one. We live in a new day and the shadows have lost their terror.
First image by CAC.


stef said...

That is a great quote - especially living in a culture dominated by fear of the spiritual world. What a wonderful message of release and freedom we have to share with those in bondage to fear!

byron smith said...

Yes, even western culture is dominated by fear of the spiritual world, filled with ghostly entities like the economy and national security.