Surprise! Fear can be a good emotion. It can save your life by keeping you clear of dangerous situations, out of harm’s way. It can be the cause for wise and responsible decisions. And it can help to prepare one for unexpected lurking surprises. Training for such circumstances provides readiness for how to act when fear becomes a reality. No doubt many more worthy examples could be given, but I intend to concentrate on another choice.
Fear can also be used to control others. An unfortunate choice. A spouse, a child, a student, an employee, a group member, a citizen, and even a country can all be victims of tyranny. Leaders do not always lead to promised lands. Their position can easily turn against those who are being led. Power corrupts. Rules are set. And fear becomes their crafty weapon. The despot uses fear to make his threats sound real. Obedience is expected from his subjects or else – punishment is handed out for disobedience.
Can you see how fear can be used for good and for evil? Think about it in families, in neighborhoods, in organizations, in churches, in cities, in counties, in states, and in countries.
Fear has been used in these two ways for millennia. Families, tribes, nations, and empires used fear both ways.
Historically, natural disasters were the most difficult to avoid, and the tribal Shaman usually found what he thought was a reason for their violence. No doubt they surmised it was an angry sky-god who was punishing people for wrong-doing. Perhaps also for not bringing sufficient sacrifices and offerings. The ultimate punishment for disobedience was obviously death. This logic might be called a “religion.” No matter. It became the great influencer and explanation for natural disasters within the tribe.
Fortunately, science developed later and finally questioned these first claims.
The first written language was in a Sumerian cuneiform style. It developed during at least a millennia (3000 BCE – 2000 BCE). Hammurabi’s Code (1770 BCE) governed civil affairs. Zoroaster founded the first religion (around 1500 BCE). His explanation for the human condition was a Fall from a perfect creation which angered the sky-god and introduced the need for a sacrificial atonement plan to save mankind. The threat of an end-time apocalypse spread the fear to either believe the atonement work of the messiah figure provided or be destroyed by a hellish flame after an end-time judgment of the sky-god. Sounds familiar, huh?
These general themes ran through all the human religious myths as they developed among major civilizations. Each of the priestly mediators provided certain details to fit their needs. The civil laws of Hammurabi and the religion of Zoroaster that began in Mesopotamia spread into Egypt, into the Far East, and into Asia Minor over the following centuries.
Our most visible example is the development of the Hebrew civil laws and religion. Its oral history with its myths, traditions and rituals, were finally formulated and written by priests while under Babylonian and Persian captivity (about 600 BCE – 500 BCE). Remember that Zoroastrianism was the official religion of Babylon, just as it had been from the days of the Chaldeans when Abram left Ur between the two great rivers for Canaan on the Great Sea in the west. His growing family encountered similar civil law and religious traditions among the Canaanites and then more among the Egyptians while under captivity there. Although the Hebrew’s slavery released a yearning for freedom, they had also learned a further development of Hammurabi’s civil laws which had spread into Egypt almost five centuries earlier.
The Hebrew’s Exodus (about 1300 BCE) and the history of their kings were quite likely very different from recorded hearsay accounts finally made around 500 BCE. In the meantime, their sky-god had also changed from poly to mono, from Israel’s warlike avenger to a more universal compassionate forgiver as portrayed by the pre-captivity Prophets, from YHWH the Creator to Elohim the Endless and Everything One. Unfortunately, the life of acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness did not become so evident in Israel’s dreamland that had once held such promise for a better life. Although the Hebrew (Jewish) civil laws (Deut.) which required “an eye for an eye” punishment remained, their apocalyptic religious traditions (see their book of Daniel) soon returned while falling under Greek tyranny and then the Roman occupation. Several unsuccessful messiah-led rebellions expected YHWH’s vengeance but did not receive such aid. Oppressive fears of unjust treatment surrounded the Jews for the next five centuries. Not least of course was the fear of death itself.
During those days, a Galilean Sage began to echo the old message of the pre-captivity Prophets. He did not speak of a sky-god, but rather of an ever-present loving Fatherly Elohim. His acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness for all could change their lives from oppression into freedom. And they could easily imitate such an Elohim while spreading his “kingdom” on earth, right here-and-now, being unconditionally human, making things better for all. And since the consciousness of this Presence is always felt and will never leave or forsake us, not even in death, what is left to fear of death and/or an apocalyptic end -time judgment which will never come?
This is Elohim’s justice! It had always been his justice from the beginning. But only a few were enlightened by it and lived it by being unconditionally human. Most of humanity had been using a payback justice instead – and they still do! The Galilean was determined to teach how opposite these justice systems actually were. Unconditional Love vs. avenging payback punishment. He lived the first and challenged the latter.
Jewish religious leaders became furious over his “blasphemous” display of justice! And their kind of fearful justice finally had the Galilean murdered.
We cannot say much more about the Galilean called Jesus of Nazareth. Eyewitnesses of his life left no records of it. Some fifty years after his death, the Romans destroyed the Temple and most of Jerusalem, killing thousands of Jews after another failed rebellion. The first Jewish attempt to explain this disaster and link it to Jesus’ life was made by Mark about 75 CE to 80 CE. Since there were no eyewitnesses, Mark could only use hearsay and serve as a backup to Paul’s letters to the Gentiles written around 50 CE. Fortunately, Mark and Matthew did preserve a few of Jesus’ sayings and stories which illustrated his message of the Presence of an unconditional Love among us. See Matt 5: 38-48 and parables of the Prodigal Son, the Generous Landowner, and the Good Samaritan.
It should also be mentioned here that Paul was a Doctor of Jewish payback justice and grew up in an apocalyptic community. His background and his meditations finally saw the opportunity to find a “messiah’s” atonement in Jesus’ death. But Paul’s theology was totally opposite from the Galilean’s message, the one that early Jewish followers still lived and shared, that is, until they died or were either killed or scattered during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (69-70 CE).
We need to note here that Paul’s letters to the Gentiles and Mark’s new narrative to the Jews were all that early “Christian” gatherings had to learn from. And both sources were apocalyptic to the core.
Just before the turn of the century and soon after it, three more narratives were written. And by comparing Matthew and Luke with Mark, it is easy to see that they had copied Mark’s narrative, and having rich imaginations of their own, they added several ideas to make the story fit the many OT “predictions” of a messiah coming near the end-time apocalyptic judgment. The fourth writer took another road altogether. John turned the Galilean into the “Word of God” that had become flesh among us. Later, he even painted a picture of this “Lord” returning as the judge in his Revelation vision of the end of the world.
Warning! Except for a very few sayings and stories that emphasize our Father’s unconditional love and presence among us, do not count on the accuracy of these narratives written 80-120 years after Jesus’ brief life and death. The Christian tradition was finally built on these New scriptures by 400 CE.
Compare Paul’s theology and the four narratives with the real good news of the Galilean Sage, hidden among all the weeds of the NT narratives. Which of the two messages sets you free with hope for your future, being unconditionally human? And which one means to control your life with the need for atonement and fill you with fear of an end-time judgment?
Henry Hasse ~ March 2014