Have you ever been scared, I mean really afraid? I have, more than once.
When I was six, I was attacked by a dog. Like any good story there is more to it than “I was just standing there and I don’t know what happened.” I wasn’t just standing there and I do know what happened. Still it happened. I was six…I said that already…but I was only six.
When my girls were six they were scared of most anything. They didn’t like loud noises or thunderstorms or scary movies or dark rooms or being left alone and so much more. It is normal to be afraid at six when you feel threatened. This is why you have parents. In a loving and kind and healthy family, your mom and dad take away the boogie man and keep the lights on for you to fall asleep and hold you tight when the thunder rolls. You need your mom to tell you it is going to be OK. You need your dad to pick you up and carry you every now and then. You need a piggy back ride and lots of hugs. You’re only six.
When I was bitten it took 55 stitches to fix the mess. The doctors said it was lucky I still had a face. So you can imagine the trauma inside and outside. The stitches and scars didn’t help. I was reminded often of that day when the kids called me scar face. I couldn’t leave the house without fear of another attack. I knew every chain rattle and dog fence. I had routes to school or friends’ houses that would take me way out of my way to avoid another dog. I lived in constant fear of another horrific moment. I grew to hate those dogs. I thought of ways I might get them all back for what they did to me. Come on. I was only six. Don’t worry. I grew out of it. Today my best buddy is my dog Max. Still you get the point, I hope.
That same year just before this incident, my parents had a blow up. Every family has some strife now and then. It is normal for moms and dads to have an argument about something sometime. This wasn’t one of those. This was way bigger. Again I was six. It left a mark. Who could I turn to when the thunder boomed? These people who were my security were wanting to hurt each other. How could I trust them anymore? Now after the dog thing, where do I turn when the other kids are being mean? Who is hearing me through the arguments or painful silence? Maybe you get the picture. I think most people can identify with this story in some way. Again, don’t worry, I grew up and I still love my parents. They eventually went their separate ways and yes it hurt a lot and yes there are still scars but we still grow up and adjust. That is the miracle of life.
So now fast forward to the Amygdala.
I know, you are confused but just hold on a moment.
From Wiki: The amygdalae (singular: amygdala; /əˈmɪɡdələ/; also corpus amygdaloideum; Latin, from Greek ἀμυγδαλή, amygdalē, ‘almond’, ‘tonsil’), are two almond-shaped groups of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions, the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.
Bruce Wauchope has a great teaching on this Amygdala stuff. Check him out here. For me I’m not a doctor but I can understand the concept. When we are afraid this Amygdala kicks in and causes our limbic system to react. We get a “fight or flight” response. Have you had one of those before? I have. Yeah, when I was six and for years after, the rattle of a chain would have me frozen and unable to move or run in hysterics with the certainty that I was about to be chewed to death. The reaction is often irrational and not proportional to the stimulus.
We learned about this in flight training. We would train and train and practice and practice so when we were afraid (which is going to happen in a fighter jet) you had a “trained response” that would keep you from getting killed. I experienced that more than once while landing on the aircraft carrier at night. That can be really scary when it is really dark and the weather is really awful. I had learned and rehearsed “rote” procedures and habits in response to fear. It was a good thing for a fighter pilot. It isn’t a good thing for a relationship.
OK, now that I have sucked you in let me get to the point.
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (ESV)
When you are scared as a kid you want your mom and dad to protect you. When bad stuff happens you want your parents, don’t you? When we think of God our first thought or impulse or emotion should be LOVE. When we ponder the things of God it should be like a big bear hug from your Father. When you are feeling alone or afraid or abandoned, you should come into the arms of Abba and enjoy a warm embrace. This is normal and expected and what you were made for.
Instead religion has projected an image into our brains that is supported by our fallen Adam logic that says God is something to be afraid of. That ain’t Jesus. That ain’t your Father in Heaven. That is a mythological g.o.d. of alters and sacrifices and killing Abel.
When we live in an irrational “fear of the Lord” our Amygdala kicks in. We don’t even know it but we are in fight or flight from God!?!?!? This irrational fear is what the ancients believed. That is what the Hebrew tradition, mutated by religion and enforced by separatism, brought us. That is what Jesus came to remove forever. Sadly the Amygdala was working in overdrive for the scribes and pharisees and romans and…well everyone when Jesus showed up.
He brings love and acceptance and kindness and healing and forgiveness and understanding and inclusion and assurance and adoption and so much more. Instead of embracing Love Himself we killed the truth. We tried to extinguish the light because of a little almond-shaped gizmo in our brains…and a whole bunch of really bad religion.
Do you think I am being harsh? Try running from a chain rattle. Try sitting in the cockpit of an airplane behind the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. Try that fear on for size. No, I have one better. Sit in the pew of the First Assembly of the Fear of the Lord we are Right congregation and let pastor “I know everything and if you don’t believe me you will burn” tell you a thing or two. Want to have a hyper vigilant amygdala response? Try western fundamentalist evangelical Christianity swimming in the mythology-infused doctrines of penal substitution. Just saying.
OK, that was probably over the line but come on. Jesus came to show us that God cannot and will not be vengeful and angry and bring punishment to anyone. We KILLED HIM and He loved us. We tortured Him TO DEATH and He said “do not fear.” We brutally beat Him and spit on Him and rejected Him and shamed Him and laughed at Him and so much more and He didn’t raise a hand to defend Himself. He came out of the tomb and loved us and accepted us and revealed His union with us. How could we be afraid of Him ever again? How could we put fear in the hearts of others when Jesus didn’t? When will we stop threatening people with a mythological image of our loving Father? Until we do, amygdala responses will continue. People will be locked in a “fight or flight reaction” to our Abba and not even know it.
Human hearts are hard to the truth when they are afraid. My parents told me over and over again that the dogs would not hurt me. Do you think I believed them after I had experienced something different? Do you think I trusted the advice of two people that wanted to hurt each other? Do you think someone who has been pounded with the hammer of hell and judgment from a g.o.d. is going to believe me when I tell them not to be afraid of their Father? Yeah, now you are getting it.
Trained responses of scripture-spouting or Bible verse quoting or tight and precise doctrinal dogmas about eternal destiny certainty will not help. That is what you do flying jets aboard ships. That is not loving and living and embracing your Abba. It is time to stop with the fear and let Him love us. Let the perfect love of God, as demonstrated in His willingness to let us kill Him for no reason other than our irrational fears, set us free from our amygdala response. Then we can hear Him. Then we can know the truth and the truth will set us free. Then we can be free indeed. Then we can love as we are loved.