Wednesday, November 27, 2013
When False Evidence Appears Real
Walls of Old Jerusalem. This would be more the scale attempted by Nehemiah’s builders – they were half height at this point – than the well-known view of the imposing (and later) Wailing Wall
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it.
But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.
DESPITE THE SPEECHES and the cursing invective and the way the ‘feeble Jews’ were portrayed by their enemies, the people teamed up and worked. They were goldsmiths and merchants and priests and temple functionaries as well as people used to carrying loads and working with building materials.
Even for those who were builders, the conditions were difficult. Building up walls with stones is not bricklaying – stone slabs are are huge and difficult to lift and position, and the good material had to be dug out of the rubble, salvaged and shaped – all the time at risk of physical attack.
Difficult conditions, people whose strength is giving out, a lot of stress – this is a fertile environment for fear. Those who opposed the work, who came from many tribes, put it about that they could slip in among the workers unseen: “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” (4:11)
Of course, they couldn’t – the wall was by now continuous and up to half its height. But they could put that suggestion about. They could sow the seeds of fear.
What is fear? It is what might happen. The thought is worse than the reality. In the heat of the moment, courage rises up, but before that, the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real is a helpful explanation.
I have a fat and difficult-to-hold dictionary with ‘Oxford’ on the front, so that means it is a good one. This is how it defines the word ‘fear’:
1. An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm
2. A feeling of anxiety regarding the likelihood of something unpleasant happening, or the unwelcome outcome of something.
So fear is not the actual danger or the happening you’d rather didn’t happen – it is an emotion caused by your perception of how likely it is to happen, what it might be like, how much of a threat it is, what could happen at the worst end of the scale.
Perception. That’s where that False Evidence Appears Real.
What evidence are we looking at? Either the kind of real evidence that will stand up in court, or the circumstantial and suggestive stuff.
Whose voice are we listening to? The one who twists facts, skews circumstances, invents a kind of ‘popular press’ story out of nothing and hits you with a scary headline. It’s the “Arctic freeze on way” story again. I think a certain newspaper keeps that as a front page splash for slow news days in winter every year. It’s looks like a story – but with how much substance?
Fears and anxieties come from some kind of ‘story’ that has got into your mind – but we always need to check the substance of it and whether it will stand up.
Nehemiah pulls this back to reality with a “who are you listening to” speech. He reminds them of the covenant – who they are in covenant with. He doesn’t use that word – but the clue is that he says “Remember…”
They were saying to him: “They will come up against us from every place…” And he saw their fear and spoke to the leaders and to the people and said: “Do not be afraid of them. REMEMBER the Lord who is great and awesome, and FIGHT…
When we remember who we are and what Jesus has done for us, we position ourselves as overcomers in the fight that is all around us.