When faced with fear, look up to God!
Seated in a crowded restaurant, my husband and I had just placed our dinner order. We sat in front of a large window with a view of the open-air shopping center that was decorated for the holidays with beautiful lights, trees, and ornaments. Many families strolled by as they shopped.
As we gazed outside, we became aware that people were starting to run toward the parking lot. More and more people ran by the window, looking over their shoulders, clutching shopping bags and children’s hands. It quickly became surreal—such a big crowd running in the same direction looked like a scene out of a movie in which people panic as they try to escape a monster.
Suddenly, someone burst through the back door of the restaurant and shouted, “There’s a shooter!” For an instant, people looked at one another in disbelief, then most grabbed their coats and bags and ran out the door, leaving their partially eaten meals on the tables. Others flung themselves on the floor under the bar.
But some remained calm, continuing to eat with their families and friends. This calm response made me stop and think. At first, my husband and I had made a move to gather our coats and bags. But then we looked at each other as if we both knew what we needed to do. Based on our study of Christian Science, we knew we didn’t have to react with fear or panic but could instead listen for God’s guidance. My husband said, “God is in control.” Right away, I felt a deep calm take over and the rising panic fade. We sat back down at our table.
Outside, the crowd had dwindled to just a few people quickly walking by. A few people were entering the shopping center from the parking lot with no idea that anything unusual was happening. We had no idea what was going on but felt it was important to stay where we were. The restaurant manager encouraged everyone not to panic. Our young server told us she was very frightened, and thanked us for staying, because it helped to calm her. We talked quietly with her for a while.
I really wanted to know what was happening in the shopping center, and I tried to search the internet for answers, but nothing about the incident had been posted yet. I knew I needed to refuse the temptation to be controlled by imagination and fear. It wasn’t easy. But just that morning, my husband and I had spent hours studying that week’s Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly and praying specifically for those affected by a recent school shooting. The Lesson had focused on the goodness, majesty, power, and glory of God and the fact that He is always actively expressing those qualities everywhere. I thought about being a witness only to the truth of God and the innocence of His precious children—including the shooter.
The prayerful time we’d had that morning echoed this verse from Psalms: “My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up” (5:3 ). The Bible Lens feature in the May 31, 2021 Sentinel says of this verse, “ ‘Look up’ is compared to the vigilance of a watch tower sentry expecting good news—in this case, answered prayer.”
Many helpful stories in the Bible tell of people who, in the face of fear and impending danger, looked up to God. While these individuals may have had no idea what the specific outcome would be, they did have confidence in the harmony of God’s presence and the power of His goodness.
For example, one time Christ Jesus and his disciples were in a storm at sea that threatened to capsize their boat. Jesus, who had been asleep, completely undisturbed by the storm, responded to his disciples’ plea for help with three actions (see Mark 4:37–39 ).
We were feeling God’s all-powerful presence, and we could trust that everyone was safe, including the shooter.
First, the Bible says, he arose. He got up from where he’d been sleeping, and it’s likely that he prayed to gain a higher view of what was going on.
Next, Jesus rebuked the wind. The Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, includes a glossary that offers a spiritual sense of words used in the Scriptures, including wind (see p. 597 ). From a physical perspective, wind represents “destruction; anger; mortal passions.” Jesus rebuked the wind, or the suggestion that material elements could have power to destroy. Only elements of God’s spiritual creation have power, and that power is never destructive.
Finally, he said, “Peace, be still,” rebuking the physical sense of wind with the spiritual sense, which Science and Health describes as “that which indicates the might of omnipotence and the movements of God’s spiritual government, encompassing all things.” The account concludes, “The wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
In the restaurant, I could see from others’ demeanor that they were feeling peaceful and calm. To me, that was evidence of God’s all-powerful presence and control, even if others might not have explained it that way. I could see that God was not the source of panic, but of peace. God is peace itself. And we could trust that everyone, the shooter included, was safe.
The kitchen staff had continued preparing meals, and our order was served. We still didn’t know exactly what was going on, but after we finished our meal, we thanked the restaurant manager and waitstaff for their service, and they thanked us for staying. We felt safe to leave.
The next day, we read that the shooter at the shopping center had fired more than fifty rounds into the air with a semiautomatic handgun. Nobody was injured. Police officers were already on site as part of an effort to curb theft, so the man was quickly apprehended. The police deputy chief was quoted as saying, “Thank God, he pointed up.”
Christ Jesus said, “Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28 ). While I will never know what the shooter was thinking, I do know that in the end he and everyone at the shopping center at the time was safe. The true harmony and peace that express God had been felt and demonstrated.
We can feel confident that it is possible to remain calm and safe even amid fear and threats of danger. Looking up to God opens our thought to the constancy of the divine presence and care, and has a far-reaching healing effect.