The Fear that Kills

Feb 21 2016


The passenger plane had just crashed and the cabin was quickly filling with smoke. I try to follow the lights on the floor, but they are difficult to see. I focus so hard on them that my head bumps into an armrest and I start to lose my balance. Someone must have left an object on a seat and it pokes me in the eye. Suddenly the air is clear and I am standing at the top of the slide – a 36 degree angle that looks pretty steep to me. I jump and sit and am soon at the bottom.

What you have just heard was an account of a simulated air disaster during a training at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. Just prior to the training, the participants viewed the actual video of the crash of United 232 in which 22 people were killed, including 18 who could not get off the plane. An investigation determined that two men were involved in a fight about who would get off first and blocked an exit. Another delay was caused when a woman in the emergency row froze and could not act. Eight people who died were lined up in an aisle eight feet from the window exit.

I used these examples to illustrate what happens when we are afraid. Most of the passengers in the simulation would have died. It took them two minutes and twenty-five seconds to evacuate. You have 90 seconds to evacuate when a plane crashes.

What happens when we are afraid? Most people freeze. They do not panic. Or worse, they go into denial and keep doing what they were doing. In a major nightclub fire, the people seated at the bar just kept drinking. On the Titanic, those who were in the ballroom just kept partying. Under extreme duress, time slows down, we become disoriented, we sweat, we feel sick, our hearts may race, we experience tunnel vision, we lose sense and sight of what’s going on and we may freeze. It’s called brainlock. You can get yourself out of it, but it takes effort.

There is the 10-80-10 rule. 10 % of the people stay relatively calm, pull themselves together, assess the situation, and act. 80% of the people experience brainlock. And even worse, 10% of the people go berserk. They lose control. They freak out. They do the wrong thing.

Simply put, ultimate, extreme fear can paralyze us. Then it becomes the fear that kills us, not the danger.

Psalm 27 talks about fear in a very different way. The Psalmist simply tells us to turn to God for help. But how can God help us in the midst of a disaster like an airplane crash or a sinking Titanic? Fortunately, most of us will never need to find out. Perhaps the question we should be asking is, “how can God help us thru the daily issues of our lives - thru illness, thru losses, thru difficult decisions? How can God help us when we literally feel like the walls are closing in around us and we cannot seem to see a way out?

If we wait until there is a major issue in our lives to try to access God’s guidance and help, we probably won’t find it. We won’t even know where to look. We won’t recognize it because we are not in an ongoing relationship with God, an ongoing conversation, and we simply are not used to looking for the answers when we pray.

Some of us just don’t buy the answer that God still comes into our lives to help us. But if we are waiting for thunderbolts from heaven or a blinking neon sign that says, “I’m God. I’m here to help you” we’ll be right. God probably isn’t here, because we aren’t looking in the right places.

A young man in his twenties was involved in a car accident blocks from his home. His mother heard about it, rushed to the scene and took pictures. When the pictures were developed, he asked her where the blond man who helped him was. She said that there was no blond man. He stated adamantly, “Yes, there was. He helped me out of the back seat.” They never found out who he was.

A student from the University of Madison was lost on a lake in a blizzard when he heard a voice directing him to the rescue station. When he arrived, a man said that he had activated the foghorn and sent out a verbal warning to be careful of the breakwater. He offered the student a cup of coffee, and the student stayed there until it was safe to return to his dorm. When he returned and related his story, he was told that the rescue station was closed all winter. When he returned to the station, there was a huge drift in front of the door and chains and locks on the door. Who saved him?

While there may not always be rescues as dramatic as these two were where it is suggested that angels came to their aid, God will always come to us in some way when we ask. The answers will always be there if we know where to look and we listen. I’m going to end this sermon today with the words of God as related in “Conversations with God-Book One.”

“I have heard the crying of your heart. I have seen the searching of your soul. I know how deeply you have desired the Truth. In pain you have called out for it, and in joy. Unendingly you have beseeched Me. Show Myself. Explain Myself. Reveal Myself.

I am doing so here, in terms so plain, you cannot misunderstand. In language so simple, you cannot be confused. In vocabulary so common, you cannot get lost in the verbiage.

So go ahead now. Ask Me anything. Anything. I will contrive to bring you he answer. The whole universe will I use to do this. So be on the lookout; this book is far from My only tool. You may ask a question, then put this book down. But watch.


The words to the next song you hear. The information in the next article you read. The story line of the next movie you watch. The chance utterance of the next person you meet. Or the whisper of the next river, the next ocean, the next breeze that caresses your ear – all these devices are open to Me. I will speak to you if you will listen. I will come to you if you will invite Me. I will show you then that I have always been there.

All ways.”

May our faith be strong enough to lead us to ask, and may we be smart enough to look for the answers when God sends them. Amen.