My Mozambican friend, Ignacio, tells a story of a trip he once made from the city back to his village. It had been raining, but the skies were beginning to clear. He was eagerly pushing on towards home carrying goods he’d purchased in town on the back of his bike. But then he saw something ahead – something so terrifying, something so dangerous, that he dropped everything and leapt off into the bush, running for his life. What was it that scared him so? Was it a lion? A poisonous snake? No… believe it or not… it was a rainbow.
Now, as an American, I come from a culture that says you may just find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (or perhaps a box of Lucky Charms!). But, as crazy as it sounds, many of my Mozambican friends have been convinced that at the end of the rainbow is a life-draining, blood sucking force that has the power to kill them. Most everyone claims to have a friend of a friend of a friend who was done in by a rainbow. And so men, women and children will often hide out until the rainbow has passed before continuing on their way.
Part of what conversion means, then, in our part of Africa is hearing the story of Noah and learning that God’s intentions for painting that rainbow sign were very good. He has hung his ‘bow’ up in the sky as a declaration that he’s done making war with humanity by means of a flood. The Lord of creation has willingly removed that weapon from his arsenal. It is tragic that this colorful sign of God’s goodness and grace has been twisted by the Deceiver into a symbol of danger and death. Instead of encouraging awe of God’s creativity, this sign causes people to cower in fear.
Our family recently experienced a very scary event. Armed robbers broke into our home and stole money and our laptops. But, besides a few cuts and bruises, thankfully no one was hurt. The break-in has introduced new words and conversations into our home because, whether we like it or not, this has become an episode in our family story. It is strange to hear our daughters talk about it – the three year old is suddenly using words like ‘burg-a-lurs’ and stating matter-of-factly that in this world “some people just choose death.” And, in the early evening, as darkness descends in our part of the world, this family can often feel the fear creeping in.
I’ve been thinking lately about how so much of what we fear has been passed on to us. In many ways, fear, like faith, is a learned behavior. There’s a famous experiment where a child was taught to be afraid of a bunny rabbit (go ahead and Google it – so sad!). Through a fairly short process, a young boy was taught that something soft and fluffy could hurt him. It makes me wonder how much of the fear we experience is irrational.
Now there is a place for fear. It can keep us from doing dumb and dangerous things. But, it seems instructive that the most common command in scripture isn’t ‘Don’t sin’ or ‘Don’t fail’… instead God’s most consistent message to us is: “Do not fear” (Isaiah 41:10).
So maybe one of the secrets of life is learning to fear the right things (Luke 12). And in order to do that, we’re going to need to be firmly grounded in the Story that helps us see the world for what it is. That way we can point out the fear-making-lies of the Deceiver. That way we’ll catch the whispers of a Story Teller who is somehow weaving both the good and the bad into His grand tale. Only then will we be able to make sure that our fear, the good and healthy kind, is reserved for Him, and Him alone.
That’s the only kind of fear I want to pass on to my children.
Featured Image by Paul Boekell