Seize the Moment: Fear and the end of all things
Death creates a tension within us. We know that it is inevitable, yet we also have a strong desire to prolong our lives. Dr. Ernest Becker, father of Terror Management Theory, says that we develop various phobias in order to cope with this tension. If you’re afraid of heights, it’s because you might fall… and die. If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces, it’s because you might not escape… before you die. Fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of the dark – it’s all a desperate attempt to avoid the unavoidable.
I think there’s some truth to this. My fear goes a little deeper, though. I’m afraid my soul will die. Even though my conversion experience brought me a boatload of grace, truth and joy in being Catholic, I still wrestle with the fear that God is going to zap me when I’m not ready, and that’ll be it. I’ll pass through the gate that says, “Banish hope, all ye who enter here,” and that’ll be the end of Nicholas Hardesty.
To be clear, this isn’t the laudable fear of Hell that compels us to repent of our sin. This is the desperate and despairing kind of fear that, unfortunately, many Christians feel today. This is the “fear that leads to bondage” that Jesus came to save us from (see Romans 8:15 and Hebrews 2:15). Where does this fear come from?
THE SOURCE OF THIS FEAR
I know God isn’t the issue here. God doesn’t want anyone to go to Hell. “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Some still go to Hell, by persisting in their rejection of God. But that’s not God’s doing. God doesn’t positively predestine anyone to Hell.
Some say this fear comes from a weakness in Catholic theology; since Catholics believe that a Christian can lose his salvation, we necessarily walk around anxious and fearful of judgment and Hell. But that’s not the truth, either. Catholics have the fullness of grace and truth. We have all seven sacraments. We have a Church that exists to save us and a Mother and Son who constantly intercede for us. All of this gives us hope that if we keep trying, progressing and coming back to Jesus, then, when our time comes, we’ll be ready.
Well then, if the source of this fear is not God, and it’s not the Church, then what is it?
TO FEAR AND NOT TO FEAR
Deep-seated fear of judgment and Hell is, at least in part, an effect of sin. Sin is what keeps us from God. Sin is what sends us to Hell and what makes judgment such a terrifying prospect. At the end of time, the mighty and the proud will be so afraid of judgment that they will prefer being buried in an avalanche to facing Jesus (see Rev. 6:15-17). But, the meek and the humble will cry out, “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
Why are they so unafraid? Why do they actually long for His coming?
FEAR NO MORE
St. John gives us a beautiful answer: “For fear has to do with punishment,” but “love casts out fear,” “that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment.” (1 John 4:16-18) Confidence for the Day of Judgment – wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing!
LOVE MAKES IT HAPPEN
Love of God compels us to glorify Him and never displease Him. Love of neighbor compels us to serve others and never mistreat them. Love of self compels us to seek what is good for us and avoid what is harmful.
Yes, death and judgment are unavoidable. But Hell isn’t, and love puts us in a sure and steady place so that when we finally meet Jesus, there will be no crippling fear – just peace, joy, and entrance into His Kingdom.
This article originally appeared in the September edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.