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All Quiet on the Fear Front

July 9th, 2008

Focus Text: Psalm 91: 5 (NLT)

 5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
      nor the arrow that flies in the day.
 6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
      nor the disaster that strikes at midday.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead


One of my favorite novels of all time is Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front.  It’s a fictional story by a German World War I veteran that chronicles the story of a young soldier’s struggle to survive in the trenches of war-torn Europe.  It’s unfortunate that so many young Americans (and older ones for that matter) have so little knowledge of World War I.  The events of World War II are usually more well-known because of popular movies like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor.  But between 1914 and 1918, an earlier worldwide conflict inflicted such devastation upon Europe and the world that those who lived during this period referred to it simply as “The Great War.”

The Great War occurred at a very interesting time in world history in that some soldiers fought with machine guns, some fought with single-shot rifles, and some fought with clubs and swords.  Some flew in airplanes, some rode in tanks, and some were still fighting on horseback.  Technology was just beginning to advance and everyone wasn’t on the same page.  But, the central feature of this war was “trench warfare.”  

Trench warfare was a total warfare strategy in which the two opposing forces would dig huge trenches that stretched for hundreds of miles.  These trenches became the “fronts” of the war.  The two armies would live in these trenches for months at a time while machine guns and mortar shells completely decimated the open field between the trenches.  The life of these soldiers entailed sleeping, eating, and breathing by the flashing lights and deafening, shell-shocking explosions of a perpetual firefight between the trenches.  It was a deadly stand-off that drove many men insane.

The mental effects of trench warfare led the nations at war to adopt a technique that was designed to paralyze the soldiers who were trapped in the trenches.  It wasn’t another weapon.  It wasn’t chemical warfare.  It was psychological warfare.

Huge loud speakers were set up that played the opposing nation’s national anthem for the enemy to hear.  Then, a man would begin speaking to them in their language telling them that the war was over and that they should surrender.  Some of these men in the trenches had been there so long with no connection to the outside world that they had no way of verifying what was true and what was a lie of the enemy.  The enemy’s voice would ring in their ears for hours on end, telling them that their families had been captured and were being tortured as long as they didn’t surrender.  Can you even imagine the mental anguish these young men must have faced?

The purpose of psychological warfare is to terrify a soldier to the point that he either surrenders, runs out into the open field and becomes an easy target, or simply does nothing but sits paralyzed with fear.  All three scenarios mean that the soldier is not fighting effectively and that benefits the enemy’s cause.  The key is fear.  Fear is something I know well.  As a young child, I was extremely scared of the dark.  Many people, adults and kids alike, spend much of their lives in fear of sickness, catastrophe, death– or worst of all: the unknown.

Psalm 91: 5 addresses this issue with a direct statement from God: “don’t be afraid!”  Huh, that’s easy for you to say?

But then the Psalmist gets specific and addresses the various types of “bad” things that can happen. Nighttime terrors.  Daytime arrows.  Dark diseases.  Midday disasters.  Yikes!  How can God tell us not to be afraid and then allow us to know all the possibilities of things that “could” happen to us?  That’s like telling a child to not be afraid of the dark and then telling them a ghost story for bedtime.  It doesn’t seem to make much sense.

You see, it all comes down to this.  We are in the trenches of this world and we’re locked in a perpetual firefight with the enemy.  At times, we may spend what seems like months or years bogged down in one spot unable to advance.  At this point, the enemy cranks up the loud speakers and begins to tell us what we don’t want to hear.  He tells us that we’ve failed.  He tells us that the war is lost and that God has forgotten about us.  

His purpose?   To cause us to surrender to our old lifestyles.  To cause us to run out into the open where he can take us out. Or just as devastating to our cause, to paralyze us into inaction. 

But unlike those poor souls who went for months without contact from the outside world, our Father is speaking directly into our trench and He’s telling us to stay put and to not be afraid.  He’s not saying that the dangers aren’t real; He’s saying that His power is greater than your enemy’s.  Ha!  Take that!

Fear is the enemy’s most effective weapon and it attacks you on the battlefield of your mind; therefore, that’s where you must combat it.  Whose voice are you going to listen to?  Remember, you’re not alone in your trench, so don’t listen to the enemy’s bogus misinformation.


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