In January 2015, NPR launched a new program, Invisibilia. They describe it as “a series about the invisible forces that shape human behavior … interweaving personal stories with scientific research that will make you see your own life differently.”
In its sophomore episode it tackled the journey of a middle-aged woman known as SM (her real name is protected), who lost the ability to feel fear. SM suffers from Urbach-Wiethe disease, an extremely rare condition known to affect only about 400 people worldwide. Over time, Urbach-Wiethe disease causes the amygdala (the part of the brain which regulates fear) to calcify and become utterly useless.
SM has only vague memories of ever having felt fear prior to the disease having ravaged her amygdala. Since then, she has subjected herself to a variety of research studies which have placed her in various and sundry situations ranging from mildly risky to downright horrifying, and then tracking her responses. They monitored her reaction to everything from snake and spider encounters, horror movies, "surprise" muggings by gunpoint and knifepoint, and even less physically threatening, but still "scary" situations like gambling away large sums of money. She passed all tests without so much as a flinch.
Since she doesn’t respond with “fear,” she has never experienced what scientists would consider “trauma.”
The closest she has come to fear came as the result of a 2013 experiment in which she was asked to inhale carbon monoxide via a gas mask. She wasn’t fearful of putting on the mask, but did indeed experience panic when she began to struggle to breathe. Scientists found the same result in two other Urbach-Wiethe patients when put to the same test, leading them to theorize that the brain processes external threats (like seeing a poisonous snake or being mugged at gunpoint) differently than internal ones (like lungs struggling to breathe, or suffering a heart attack).
She may not know fear, “But she does have logic, so she understands that if a car is barreling down the street, she should try to get out of its way.”
Wouldn't it be wonderful to live your life free of fear? Imagine the new things you might be willing to try or the adventures you might set out on, if you weren't afraid of the risks. And what about your spiritual journey? How would being fearless effect you as a witness to family and friends, as a volunteer in your community or at your church, as a student of God's Word? Have you passed all these tests without so much as a flinch?
The fact is, we fear for lack of the full assurance of God's love. Are you holding back because you haven't yet matured in your experience of God's perfect love?
"Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love" (1 John 4:18, NLT).
While Urbach-Wiethe patients are impervious to external threats, they do fear internal ones. For this reason, they serve to illustrate Jesus' exhortation in Matthew's gospel:
"Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28, NLT).