Here is another article by my friend Dr John Dempster.
First published today in the Highland Group of Newspapers
I watched as my wife Lorna and daughter number two, Bethany walked confidently down the stairs, to be swallowed up in the darkness and the pulsating sound of a macabre, chorus. Fear beckoned! I turned, and walked back to Waverley Station, in no doubt that my family would enjoy their hour-long adventure in the Edinburgh Dungeon.
I guess all of us have our own mix of fears, but for some the anxiety is so intense that it’s as though they are prisoners in fear’s dungeon. They find it hard to understand the Edinburgh attraction’s concept of fear as entertainment. The good news is that Christians believe that the light of God drives out all fear, all darkness.
The worst fears I personally ever experienced arose from depression, and from misunderstandings about God. When I was anxious and depressed, I was afraid that I might lose control and hurt others, or that I would give in to suicidal impulses. These fears were healed over a long period of time through good advice from friends and books, the discovery of a medication which actually worked, and a growing awareness of the warm light of God’s love.
Earlier, as a young person I’d been crippled by terror of God’s judgement. As a child I was taught at Sunday School that I must ‘give my heart to Jesus’ and be ‘born again.’ I’m sure I was told that God loved me, but what lodged in my heart was the sense that he wouldn’t be pleased with me and that I wouldn’t be able to connect with him until I’d had this apparently dramatic and unmissable experience of rebirth. There were times when I prayed for this experience, sincerely I think, and yet because I felt no different after praying, I assumed nothing had happened.
When I was about fifteen, someone asked me ‘Are you a Christian?’ meaning ‘Have you been born again?’ Impetuously I lied. ‘Yes,’ I replied. Not having the courage to confess that I was lying, I found myself agreeing to be baptised by immersion and to join the church. I was gripped by panic, convinced that on the night of my baptism God would strike me down for this great sin of deception. Well, I survived, but Sunday by Sunday in the years which followed as I took the bread and wine at communion, I was afraid that this was the week God would say ‘Enough!’
There was an additional dimension to my fear. All Christians believe that Jesus Christ will in some way directly intervene at the end of human history. Some believe that in an event prior to this, Jesus will return ‘to the air’ and ‘rapture’ (seize up to be with him) all true believers. Everyone else will be ‘left behind’ to face the chaos of an increasingly dysfunctional world.
As a teenager, I lived in almost continual fear of being left behind. When people whom I knew were Christians were not where I expected them to be at a particular time, the fear mounted. I’d phone someone I knew was a believer and then put the phone down without speaking when they answered, and collapse in relief. The Lord had not come. Not that day, anyway.
Jesus taught that there is a legitimate fear of God – something’s wrong if we catch even the slightest glimpse of the vast wonder of God and don’t tremble in awe, and see the foolishness of choosing darkness rather than light. But Jesus also taught that this immense being, immense in strength and goodness and love actually knows and loves us as individuals and that as we allow his forgiving love to embrace us, we are set free from all fear
It is tragic that for several years my life was on hold because I was paralysed by fear of God, not recognising the significance of his love for me, not recognising that my honest prayers had been heard even though I didn’t feel any different. Eventually on a December evening in 1973 when I was 21 I at last had a sense of encountering God, and being loved by him with a love beyond the power of words to express. I took the first steps on a long and difficult journey towards complete freedom from fear.
I share this for all who find themselves in the dungeon of fear, whatever its cause, and especially for those who are paralysed by a false fear of God. God is the liberator whose voice calls out to us in the dungeon. When we respond positively, it’s not so much that we come up the steps into the sunlight. Rather the brightness of God’s love melts the very walls and chains which hold us captive, and all is light.
John A. H. Dempster
God bless you,