No, this is not a post about the red pills and their dread-ful foolishness, but rather “dread” in the old fashioned sense of the word, meaning, “anticipate with great apprehension, or the fear of impending doom.”
Specifically the way fear can lead to learned helplessness, the way human beings that have been exposed to too much failure, too much impending doom, can simply stop trying. When you believe the fruits of your labors are going to fruitless, or worse, attached to some form of punishment, it’s really quite logical to just stop what you are doing and quit trying.
I’ve been observing dread and learned helplessness for a long time, both in myself, in politics, in faith, and especially around poverty work. “Poverty” meaning not really a state of having little or no money, but rather a poverty of spirit that leaves one feeling perpetually defeated. Why bother, why try anymore, you’re just trapped in a broken system that doesn’t work, and fighting against the current has just become too painful.
Crime will do that to you, injustice, generational issues, a bad economy, exploitation, abuse of government, theft, despair…
To give you a feel for this, I once had a powerful argument with a church sign, an inanimate object, but really an argument with God Himself, over the simple words “you reap what you sow.” It was one of those times where you go boldly before the throne of grace and demand an explanation. I know scripture doesn’t lie, I know it is tried and true, but I have never, not once seen those words play out in the real world. I see bad people reap good things, and good people reap slashed tires, broken windshields, unemployment, cancer diagnoses. I see bounced paychecks, stolen retirement accounts, tiny little businesses audited over and over again.
I see a world that rewards injustice, cruelty, narcissism, and punishes integrity and ethics. I see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. I see a world were even those who claim to care, perceive poverty as a self inflicted misery caused by stupidity and laziness, that the solution to what ails us is education, obviously we just need to be taught how to shop better, use less resources, work harder, turn down our thermostats, stop living beyond our means, make better choices, be more moral.
The immoral poor. Morality really is judged by the cover one wears, the window dressings of our lives. So, there are the Morals who have, and the Immorals that have not. So that can become yet another form of dread, one can be the best person ever, filled with values and integrity, but the world will go right on perceiving poor people as immoral, and those in gated communities as being better, more worthy, people. That’s what those gates are for, right? To keep the riff raff out?
Dread makes us blame ourselves when bad things happen. I must have done something wrong, I must be immoral, maybe if I just don’t do anything anymore, I won’t mess anything up. I guess I deserve this.
Unfortunately many Christians in the Western world have bought into this prosperity gospel that seems to suggest that people struggling just need to be saved. I actually had a crisis of faith a few years back and wound up tossing a few Christians off my porch because everyone wanted to save me. No one would listen or accept the fact that I already knew Jesus Christ intimately, that I had been building a relationship with Him for half a century. I know what the neighborhood looks like, I know how some feel about “those kind of people,” but that’s not always an accurate perception. People don’t think about that, people haven’t read the book of Job, people don’t always understand that a homeless guy may well be a believer. Maybe a better believer than you are. Perhaps even a believer that has been knocked down, robbed of his peace, by other believers. Yeah, that one will really mess with your head.
God is faithful. When I demanded answers to “you reap what you sow,” He sent me on a treasure hunt through scripture, into interest rates, the federal reserve, the world economy, politics, and human nature. Than He told me about the enemy, an enemy who is first and foremost a thief. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” He’s called a thief because he steals things, our ability to see clearly, our perceptions, our hope, our ability to persevere, our awareness that we walk in victory. Our faith.
Both faith and fear come from the same place, as in they ask you to place your eyes on something you cannot see. That can become a self fulfilling prophecy. If you suffer from the dread, your eyes are placed on fear, hopelessness, despair. It’s easy to tell people to just “fear not,” but the poor know what the bottom actually looks like, they have been there and done that. They know how bad it can get. They cannot look up, they’re busy watching the ground rush up to meet them.
I have some fear for the future, some dread about what is coming down the pike. Not fear of poverty, I know how to survive poverty, but a fear that Christians who are called to be salt and light, will get it wrong, will go right on trying to fix the things that aren’t broken and breaking the things that actually work.
God’s steadfast patience and mercy is far greater than mine.