Some people enjoy being in a crowd: the more the merrier. Some people feel a little anxious when they find themselves in a crowd, on a busy city street or in a sports arena or theater, in the airport line for security checks, etc., etc. Crowds in general can just overwhelm some people. Then there are those people who are responsible due to their career or assignment or position of authority, they know that lots of people are relying on them, and they feel as if fear is prohibited (even if they feel a bit anxious).
I was always intrigued with the title of the book by Thomas Hardy, “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Naturally, considering the title of this blog, that book came to mind. That is how my mind works. But the crowds in Hardy’s novel are limited to sheep, laborers, wedding guests in a church, citizens caught up in changes in law enforcement, and other “crowds.” I suspect that the crowds in the book are more observers than they are the kinds of crowds which cause people anxiety or fear. But they are there; and there is one more crowd which goes unnamed, but which is inescapable: the crowd of thoughts in one’s mind or passions in one’s heart. These are unseen crowds, but they can drive a man or woman to do things which may not align with their greater purpose.
In the Bible, we are introduced to King Saul, or Saul about to be anointed by Samuel as ruler of Israel, and he is almost nowhere to be found — that is until he is discovered hiding among the cargo in of the traveling caravan moving through town…among baggage, sacks, merchandise, who knows what. Taller than everyone else by head and shoulders: why was he hiding in the baggage? And it is here that we see the flaw in Saul which plagued him during his entire reign as King. Read the story and you will see, all the way up to the point where jealousy of David led to his demise. It was not a fear of leading, or fighting, or raising a family that got in his way as king. It was, however, his fear of people that caused him to side-step his duty, and that led to a complete change in the destiny of royalty in Israel. The tests of his kingship continued throughout his reign. His fear of people surfaced again (I Sam. 15:24) when Samuel found that Saul had transgressed his command — and the command of the Lord.
Not everyone fears crowds. Not everyone fears people, or public speaking, or spiders or clowns or snakes. But everyone is afraid of something, and that fundamental character defect of everyone ever born of woman, excepting only Our Lord, is what leads everyone to hide from the full and unconditional love of God, Our Creator. We may be leaders, we may be wallflowers, we may be hermits, or we may be speakers to throngs…but under the surface there is a fear of one kind or another which causes us to want to hide, to keep a secret, to hold back in our confession. It is “okay”, but it is not totally okay. It is okay because we inherited the root of that fear. Biblical scholars, theologians, and Christians call it “original sin.” So what can a person do about it? A radical change in one’s life is required to be transformed, to be re-made or re created into the creatures we are created to be. We were not made to live in fear. And it is our secrets that will ultimately kill us on the inside — kill our spirits, separate us from our Creator.
We are created to abandon ourselves into the fullness of God’s mercy and grace, as if throwing ourselves into the ocean with nothing to hold onto, and allow God’s perfect love to cast out ALL fear. We may have many fears, and we have to return — again and again — so that God can apply that perfect love to the fear that is driving us apart, and to cast it out of our lives. But ultimately, we get to the edge, the ledge, the precipice, the end of our rope, the jumping-off place, the final turning point — however you want to describe what is holding us back from 100% perfect love aligning our hearts and spirits and minds with the Mind Of God; and it is there, and there alone, where the fear is cast out. We might say that, as we stand at the edge of the sea in the picture in this blog, our fears are cast into the sea, as far from us as possible; and we are free to walk fearlessly among the crowds.
Readers may have started this brief essay thinking “well I am not afraid of anything or any one.” And some readers may be at this point and think “I am not convinced; I don’t believe there is anything I fear”. But there indeed comes a point in the life of every person conceived where there will be at least one pain which erupts from deep within, and we know that either we have made that perfect act of contrition, or we haven’t.
If you haven’t made that perfect act, join the crowd; you have either been set free from fear or you don’t believe there is anything you fear (that you can’t take care of in some other manner). If you HAVE made that perfect act — a perfect act of Contrition — then you already know that you can be a peace with God and with others, even though we still have this world to trudge through on our journey toward a happy destiny. Only God knows for certain; the freedom from fear does not wipe away the mystery. But God can be trusted. And when God knows that you have honestly faced your ultimate fear and given it over, this is what is true: the ocean of God’s love is deep and wide, it is like an ocean where no fears lurk and tides of joy abide, forever: and you will find rest for your soul.
Contact Bob Harris at The Disciples College and The Mission for Biblical Literacy