In August of 1871 a man sent a letter to his wife claiming that he had been swindled by the Wells Fargo Company. He vowed his revenge. So, he began burglarizing the Fargo stage coaches in northern California. Over the next decade he succeeded in almost thirty robberies.
He would wait for the coach at a narrow pass, and at just the right moment would emerge dressed in black with a hood over his head and carrying a long, double-barreled shotgun. He was never seen arriving – he simply materialized out of nowhere.
To match his appearance, he had a deep baritone voice. He would point his gun at the driver and kindly say, “Sir, will you please throw down your treasure box?” This terrifying gentleman bandit was nicknamed “Black Bart.”
As you can imagine, Wells Fargo didn’t like Black Bart. They hired detectives to hunt him down. Laboriously these detectives tracked Black Bart to an extravagant apartment in San Francisco. But when they arrived they couldn’t believe what they found beneath the dark, menacing hood.
“Black Bart” was actually a man named Charles Boles. He was not seven feet tall like some of the witnesses had claimed. He wasn’t even six feet tall. He was not young and rugged, but instead nearing his sixtieth birthday. He wasn’t a bloodthirsty bandit at all. He was a handsome, well-educated man who had once made a living as a druggist and transportation clerk, occupations that didn’t pay as well as he would have liked.
And since Charles Boles liked to live the high life, stay in fine hotels, eat in the best restaurants, and wear the finest clothes, he discovered stagecoach robbing was not only good revenge, but bankrolled his lavish lifestyle. Further, he did not appear on horseback at his robberies because he was afraid of the animals, and Bart never fired a single shot or hurt the first person in his robberies because he never even loaded his gun.
Black Bart used the most crippling weapon in his arsenal: Fear. Through menacing intimidation, he made a good living at taking from others. But when unmasked, he was nothing people said he was. He was just an unarmed, deep, shadowy voice in a dark empty suit.
I’m not naive; the world around us is dangerous. I know that. But the living Christ has shown this world for what it is: Powerless against those who are in him. This doesn’t mean the world will not hurt us. It does not mean that some of the things we fear won’t take place. It simply means that nothing in this world can finally or completely destroy us.
Imagine that your life is a chess match or a football game, if you like. There comes a point in any such game, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, where the decisive move is made. In chess, maybe the rook takes the queen; or in football that pivotal first down is made in the last five minutes so that time will expire. These are turning points, where yes, the game continues, but it might as well be over. The final outcome has been determined, and for all practical purposes the jig is up.
The decisive move in this game of God’s universe came at the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The final outcome, at that moment, was determined. Yes, life goes on. We struggle. We suffer loss. Pieces still move on the table. There is still time on the clock. We wrestle with our phobias and try to keep our fears at bay. But we have hope – not fantasies that the world isn’t the way it actually is – but assurance that Christ has overcome the world leaving so much that would terrify us as an empty threat.
In these perilous times we do not have to lose our heads or our confidence. The power we have been given and the love we have been shown flows from the Providence who is larger than our fears, and when we live in Him, we can live unafraid.