Neuroscientists tell us that deep inside our brains are two almond-shaped structures called amygdala (from the Greek word for “almond”). They are centrally and symmetrically located in a circuit system that processes memories, decisions, and emotional reactions. While researchers are still investigating and debating the precise wiring and functions in this part of our brain, for decades they have recognized that the amygdala are essential to our experience of fear. They help us to remember, identify, and avoid fear-inducing stimuli. The amygdala are in high-alert mode when someone is watching a horror movie, or is surprised by a snake, or gets too close to an alligator!
Fear is one of our most natural and primal emotions. We share fear with all of God’s creatures. In fact, a person who has no fear whatsoever is considered to have a brain malfunction, probably in the “fear center,” the amygdala. This is analogous to those who feel no pain. The lack of ability to feel pain (such as in leprosy) is a dangerous dysfunction in the human body. Similarly, the complete absence of fear indicates that something is broken in our human wiring and self-defense system.
But wait a minute. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid!” In fact, he said it repeatedly. And I have read that some form of the imperative “Fear not” occurs 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. I’ve never personally counted them, but I’m sure it’s in the hundreds. So … is Jesus telling us to turn off our amygdala? Do the scriptures direct us toward a malfunction in our natural “fear center”? I don’t believe so, but that’s a question we will examine together this Sunday at North Lake.
If you want to get a head start, you can read Psalm 118:4,6 and Luke 12:4-7. Let’s consider the difference between healthy fear and unhealthy fear. Can we have a healthy fear with our be-not-afraid faith?
I hope to see you on Sunday morning. Bring your fears with you. If you say you have no fears at all, I’ll be skeptical and God knows better. God created us with the tiny almond-shaped amygdala that go haywire when we are in a “fight or flight” moment of distress. So bring your fears with you, and I’ll have mine, and we’ll set them before the Lord as an act of worship.
Jeffrey A. Hosmer
North Lake Presbyterian Church
Lady Lake, FL