The Bible is filled with exhortations addressing the motive of fear. The
reason the exhortations abound is that we are all afraid, just of different
stuff. We are afraid of so many things: love, honesty, humility, caring, etc. It all began in the Garden when Adam and Eve after their disobedience, realizing they were naked, were afraid and hid themselves in the trees of the garden. Naked and afraid they went into hiding. To be naked is more than not having clothes on. It means that they were threatened, vulnerable, exposed and ashamed. The shame of being less consumed them and they could not face their Maker.
I could speak of many fears but the one I think is universal is the fear of failure. No one wakes up every day fearing success. The world we live in loves winners and worships them and imitates them. Losers are ridiculed and rejected. They are fodder for late night T.V. talking heads. Losers don’t get Pulitzer Prizes or fifteen seconds of fame; they are just ignored at best and vilified at worst. So we are terrified of and dread failure. We fear it as husbands and wives, parents, students, employers, employees, Christians and so on.
Our fear of failure is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. The looming threat of failure actually contributes to a greater chance of failure. Fear both inhibits and creates inertia, i.e. paralysis by analysis. Some of us react to fear by blowing up. The threat induces anger. Others freeze up. We cease to function in healthy ways. Fear of failure does two things to us. It cuts the nerve of courage to stand up for uncomfortable or unpopular positions. It also inhibits our ability to function as effective, real people. Fear of failure makes us phony, fakes and spineless, hardly the abundant life of fullness Jesus promised.
That being said, how do we deal with the fear of failure? Do we pump ourselves up with motivational tapes? Do we say over and over, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”? Do we surround ourselves with nothing but unconditional affirmations of love? NO, the answer is found in the last place we would think to look. Simply put, it is found in the cross. How can that be?
As we bring ourselves before the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ we witness our greatest failure. Any responsible Christian reliving the passion of Jesus does not present it as a hero story in which those bad people kill Christ while we were on His side, not by a long shot. If we are honest we see that we are the people who made His suffering necessary. We created, by our hostility, the need for reconciliation. It is we who are alienated from God, self and others. We need the shock to see our own responsibility in the estrangement. Here we see the Son of God take upon Himself our bitterness and hatred that we creatures show our Creator, ourselves and each other. These are the very things that make us hide from His love and that create estrangement which is sin. Christ takes the burden of our estrangement, the feelings and actions which create it and without retaliation or threat, shocks us with His death, the death we made necessary. Any view of the cross that does not includes our own culpable involvement in the scandal and offense is neo-Pharisaism, which insulates us in a tragic self righteousness. It bars us from any real help and love. We make the suffering of the innocent One necessary. We have failed the greatest test of all. We crucified Him. The solution to our predicament is accomplished in a way that allays our fears but it can only be understood when we see ourselves as the primary agents of that predicament. How does the cross overcome our fear of failure? It enables us to realize that there is no test in the past or future to compare with the one we face on Good Friday. It renders all other tests relatively insignificant. To realize, as we stand before God’s incarnate love, that we have not passed the test, that we have failed, renders the threat of any other failure insignificant by comparison. It is imperative to see our failure at a deep level at the cross by reliving it. That is what we do at the Lord’s Supper. We remember His death. This and this alone dispels the fear of failure that cripples our lives. Once we face our common and tragic failure in the most important test we need no longer to be inhibited by the fear of failure.
The good news is that we pass in spite of our flunking. To the extent that we “get it” there remains no room for envy, ingratitude, bitterness or self pity. We have earned nothing but rejection and we have received nothing but acceptance.
We don’t have to envy our neighbor’s “success” and its attendant toys. We have something infinitely better, the love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When our deepest failure has been taken up and swallowed in a death a billion times more unjust than any injustice we have ever felt we are liberated to face our failure. In facing our greatest failure the wounds of our lives are cauterized and the fear of other failures are relativized.
The apostle Paul is a profound example. The scars of Saul of Tarsus remained but God’s grace was strong in his weakness. Out of his failure grew the deep qualities of peace and compassion. Paul gloried in the cross and all of the pus of his failure was drained out as he beheld our Lord and as the overpowering love of God was sitenstrated there. We are now in God’s kingdom where nothing ultimately fails but sin. Once we take our failures to the cross and see them for what they are we find it liberating to see how God transforms them. Some of our failures should fail and the desires that go with them need judgment and correction. Other failures of good things will ultimately triumph. They become the raw materials for greater good that God works out. So no failure if fatal except failing to see how Christ has forever dealt with them on the cross in the past and presently as our great High Priest.