Fear and justice make strange bedfellows, and yet you never seem to find one without the other. In the darkest nights of fear is when justice is most needed. Martin Luther King Jr. knew the darkness of fear. In a sermon he title “Antidotes to Fear” he listed all of the fears people were facing in the 1960s. Fear of bad health. Fear of losing money. Fear of war. Fear of the atomic age, which “lifted the fear of death to morbid proportions.” Not too different from today, huh?
Fear is a creative force
And yet in this same sermon Dr. King said, “fear is a powerfully creative force.” The fear of darkness led man to discover the secret of electricity. The fear of pain led to the marvelous advances in medical science. The fear of ignorance is why colleges and Universities were built. Dr. King said, “if man were to lose his capacity to fear, he would be deprived of his capacity to grow.”
Dr. King looked fear in the face every day. In 1956, ten years into his fight for civil rights, his home was bombed while his wife and infant daughter were there. That same day he addressed a fearful and angry crowd gathered on his lawn and pled for nonviolence. His fear drove his powerful sense of justice. He said, “our problem is not to get rid of fear, but rather to harness and master it … we must unflinchingly face our fears and honestly ask ourselves why we are afraid. This confrontation will … grant us power.” But afterward, he retreated.
He said, “I attempted to convey an overt impression of strength and courage, although I was inwardly depressed and fear-stricken.” A woman name Mother Pollard from his congregation and a dedicated participant in the Montgomery bus boycott noticed. She said, “Something is wrong with you. You didn’t talk strong tonight. I told you we are with you all the way. But even if we ain’t with you, God’s gonna take care of you.” For the next difficult 12 years until his death, Dr. King said, “the eloquently simple words of Mother Pollard came back again and again to give light and peace and guidance to my troubled soul. ‘God’s gonna take care of you.’”
There is no fear in love
Sometimes we forget that while Dr. King was a visionary and an academic, he saw himself first and foremost as a pastor, a man of God. While he quoted Aristotle, Plato and Thoreau in his sermons, he came back to the courage and love found within Christian faith to overcome his fear. He lived at the intersection of faith and intellect. Dr. King’s conclusion to his sermon, “Antidotes to Fear” was 1 John 4:18 – “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear … The one who fears has not been perfected in love.”
What fears, like Dr. King, are you holding onto today? And what will you do with those fears? Will you allow your fear to drive you to grow, create and invent? Or will you allow your fear to drive you into deeper darkness and despair? If you believe that “God’s gonna take care of you” what fears are you able to put in God’s hands?
Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.” In other words, we must look fear in the face and offer it love in return.
We need more people who do not succumb to the dark side of fear, but instead ask themselves the difficult questions.
Today there is much room for fear. If you feel a familiar fear bubbling up, I invite you now to meet it with love. Tell that fear, “God’s gonna take care of you.”
This was originally written by K.T. Sancken as a speech given at Valparaiso University’s 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.