Faith and Fear
I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27].
One of religion’s primary reasons for existing is to relieve our fears and anxieties. To people of faith, immersion in spiritual wisdom enhances the cognitive process and offers clarity and enlightenment. When we incorporate the Divine wisdom of prophets, sages and saints into our thought process, we are tapping time-tested resources that have molded civilizations throughout history.
Beings who see fear in what is not to be feared, and see no fear in the fearsome, embrace false views and go to a woeful state. [Dhammapada 317].
Fear has several degrees of intensity, such as worry, dread and panic. However, we can identify the following common characteristics of fear:
- a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, pain or calamity;
- whether real or imagined;
- in anticipation of any actual threat, disaster, etc.;
- accompanied by heightened speculation on “what if’s” and “why’s”;
- leading to uncertainty of being able to cope or respond adequately;
- due to lack of resources or the help needed to secure safety.
When disaster strikes or danger actually surrounds us, intellectual discussions and theoretical concepts become irrelevant. When emotions are tested and fears tower over our petty thoughts, it is our faith that becomes relevant and meaningful.
When trouble toucheth a man, He crieth unto Us (in all postures)- lying down on his side, or sitting, or standing. But when We have solved his trouble, he passeth on his way as if he had never cried to Us for a trouble that touched him! thus do the deeds of transgressors seem fair in their eyes! [Quran 10:12].
How do we cope with death, illness, catastrophe? Our worldview defines the principles around which our thoughts revolve, including how we respond in a crisis. The overall perspective from which we see and interprets the world regulates how we interact with our immediate environment, and how we respond to it.
Our beliefs about life, death and the reality of existence should include guidance on how to respond in times of great difficulties and impending crises. They should define courage, sacrifice, perseverance and other qualities that control and vanquish fears.
Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God, finds he lacks nothing.
God alone suffices. [Teresa of Avila].
When contemplating an eternal reality, our complex schemes and illusion dissolve into the ocean of Divine thoughts. Our fears and worries slide from our shoulders as we bow down in reverence before a Divine Reality.
Place the Fear of God within the home of your heart; with this Fear of God in your heart, all other fears shall be frightened away. [Adi Granth, Gauri, M.1. p. 151].
Faith and the Immune Systems
The correlation between our psychological health and our physiological functions, including hormonal secretions, chemical balances and immunity to illness, cannot be ignored. A worldview without mechanisms to respond to the broad variety of threats facing a human being leaves us unable to cope adequately when serious challenges face us
[A person’s] religious faith . . . means for me essentially his faith in the existence of an unseen order of some kind in which the riddle of the natural order may be found explained. [William James, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism: a Biography, p. 355].
Our thoughts affect the entire range of our biochemical activity and our thoughts are dependent on our belief system. It is generally agreed that tranquility, joy and security help us improve our metabolic processes. By contrast, chronic fear, anxiety and stress produce toxic and morbid conditions which we cannot continually tolerate.
Let us have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man; and the author’s advice to his every reader is – if you do not have a good religion, get one. If you have a religion and it has not so changed you as to effect your emancipation from fear and worry, then we would advise that you change your religion and get one that will. [William Samuel Sadler].
Engineered to Conquer Fear
Faith is complete trust and confidence in someone or something based on psychological assurance rather than physical proof.
By definition, faith can dispel fearful thoughts. Even unbelieving skeptics, in their attempts to rationalize the ubiquity of faith throughout history, propose that humans evolved religions as a response to uncontrollable threats and inexplicable phenomena in a hostile environment.
Confidence theories also begin with a notion of man’s inward sense of weakness, and especially of his fears—of disease, of death, of ill fortune of all kinds—and they see religious practices as designed to quiet such fears, either by explaining them away, as in doctrines of the afterlife, or by claiming to link the individual to external sources of strength, as in prayer…. Confidence, or anxiety-reduction, theories, like awe theories, clearly have empirical foundation but do not adequately explore the complex relationship between fear and religious activity. They are not rooted in any systematic conceptualization of mental functioning and so merely point to matters desperately in need of clarification, without in fact clarifying them. [International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968)].
Defense against Fear
Faith is the ultimate defense system engineered to conquer fear. For every type of fear, an article of faith can provide thoughts to reduce anxieties emanating from the physical world. These mechanisms include trust, hope, gratitude optimism, patience and confidence.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13].
Tranquility from trust in a Divine Reality leads to peace of mind. Our reliance and dependence on such a Reality provide thoughts of certainty that God will not fail.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. [Psalm 18:2].
Faith in the mercy of God leads to positive thoughts based on hope in the ultimate outcome of events in our life and in the world at large.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. [Psalm 34:19].
Gratitude for past benefits, help and protection dispels worrisome anticipation and reduces uncertainty. Our thoughts of thankfulness and appreciation remind us of the good fortune we have already experienced and thus fortify our mental state against anxiety about the future.
Whosoever submits his will to God, while doing good, his wage is with his Lord, and no fear shall be upon them, neither shall they sorrow. [Quran 2:112].
Optimism flows from thoughts of a merciful and compassionate Creator. It is a mental companion that works on our behalf in all possible events, conditions or contingencies.
And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me for his heavenly Kingdom; to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. [2 Timothy 4:18].
Faith is the foundation for patience and our capacity to endure hardship, difficulty and inconvenience without thoughts of despair, futility or sense of defeat.
Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. [Psalm 37:7].
Faith provides thoughts of confidence and self-assurance in our own abilities based on reliance the all-encompassing power of Divine Providence.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)].