PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP)–“I just can’t seem to turn it off.” These were the words of a young mom sitting in my medical exam room the other day. She came in complaining of shortness of breath of a few days’ duration but it soon became apparent that the cause was not physical in nature.
Instead, there was a strong undercurrent of anxiety beneath her physical malady. This angst was not only sapping her physically but also was acting as a toxic groundwater threatening to poison her emotional well-being.
As we probed into the source of her distress, she related how she had become fixated on television news reports of the New York attacks and the subsequent anthrax exposure cases. She said it was very difficult to draw herself away from these television reports, and when she did do so the images and the fears stayed with her throughout the day and night.
Her emotional distress was palpable in the exam room and served as confirmation that the terrorists (foreign or domestic) had practiced their diabolical craft well.
A terrorist’s stock in trade is the instillation of fear in his opponent. This fear can be against threats that are real or imagined, and a few incidents are quickly amplified in the public imagination. Terrorists rely on this fear inflation in their attempts to paralyze us.
They also realize that one thing Americans fear most is the exotic — hence the introduction of an obscure, primarily veterinary disease into our midst with the most ominous of names: anthrax. The name actually comes from the Greek word for coal, anthrakis, because the disease causes black coal-like skin ulcers in humans. It is a relatively common illness in livestock worldwide. However, the risk of any individual in this country contracting anthrax remains infinitesimally small.
Jesus was well aware of our innate vulnerability to fear and its corollary of worry. This is why he told us in Matthew, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things….” (Matthew 6:25-32 NIV).
Dare we add to this list of unnecessary questions the additional queries, “Shall I buy a gasmask?” or “Shall I purchase Cipro off the Internet?” Surely our kind Heavenly Father already knows our needs and will graciously provide, O you of little faith. For ultimately our trust can never rest in our good government, our learned medical community or our well-trained military forces. “In God we trust” is what even our currency cries out. The apostle Paul reminds us that in all times and circumstances, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV).
Sometimes it seems that our own enemies can be our best advisers. Albert Camus, a noted French atheist and writer of the first half of the last century, is one such unlikely counselor. Although he at one time toyed with the idea of becoming a Christian, he ultimately rejected the faith, becoming one of its noted critics. He nevertheless had some wise words for us just before his death when he wrote, “The world expects of Christians that they will … plant themselves squarely in front of the bloody face of history. We are in need of folk who have determined to speak directly and unmistakably and come what may to stand by what they have said.”
In the midst of these sad and sinking times, it is essential that we Christians “speak directly and unmistakably” to our neighbors who are confused, anxious and afraid. We must tell them that the world is indeed desperately wicked and that this is not the way things were supposed to be. More importantly we must tell them that our only hope is in individual supernatural spiritual regeneration through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Put simply, our message is what it has always been — only Jesus saves!
Buckley is a family physician in Pensacola, Fla., currently serving on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. He is a founding fellow of The Research Institute of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and was recently appointed to the editorial board of Ethics & Medicine, an international journal of bioethics.