Fear factors

storm_runnerI’m afraid of roller-coasters. Not the coasters themselves — as a techno-geek, I love the ingenuity of gravity-powered thrill rides.

What scares me is that first huge drop, when your stomach goes into your throat and you plummet face-first towards certain death. The thought of falling from a great height terrifies me.

You probably have fears, too. Fear is a deep confrontation with our human frailty and mortality. We cherish life and fear those things that might steal it or diminish its joys. We cherish relationships and fear losing love and friendship.

Fears can also arise from self-doubt. When we’re working outside of our comfort zone, when we’re up against the unknown, when the stakes are high and the consequences of failure are unacceptable, fear can paralyze the strongest of us.

Faith is not a fear-free zone.

I’ve been reading Luke and came to the middle of the 8th chapter, where Jesus asks the disciples to take him across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Midway across, a violent storm blows up and the boat begins taking on water. The disciples, many of them seasoned sailors, panic. They call on Jesus to start bailing. Instead, he speaks a command and the storm dies away.

The disciples are dumbfounded. Witnessing Jesus’ authority over the weather frightens them even more than the thought of drowning.

As they reach the other side of the lake and beach the boat, a naked, cursing madman comes rushing towards them. If that isn’t frightening enough, the man speaks to Jesus with the terrified voices of demons who beg Jesus not to destroy them. Jesus frees the man from his demons and his calmness and sanity returns, which sends the townsfolk into a panic. A delegation approaches Jesus and begs him to leave their town and go back where he came from.

I can relate to the fear of a violent storm or an angry and deranged individual. But rarely in our fat-free, decaffeinated modern Christianity do we witness the raw power of God’s intervening hand. Rarely in these post-modern times do we find ourselves humbled by God’s authority over spiritual powers and principalities.

If we should ever glimpse that sort of power, how would we react? Would we prefer the safety of the status quo? Would we ask Jesus to leave us to the peace and apparent tranquility of our suburban sanctuaries?

It is a fearful thing to have your paradigms shifted and your status unquoed.

Which leads me to conclude that there are two types of faith.

There is a faith lived out on the margins of God’s story, a docile faith of Sunday church services and sweet, familiar hymns, of comfortable ritual, friendly smiles and kind words. It is a faith whose story ends in the sadness of a cold, damp tomb.

Then there is a faith lived out in the middle of the unfolding narrative of God’s story, a faith that breathes deep from the transforming pneuma of the Spirit, a faith that walks in the footsteps of the Son of God, a faith that has been humbled by the power of the resurrection.

And here is the interesting part. If we live in the shadow of the resurrection and in the presence of the living Christ, he takes away our fears.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. — 2 Timothy 1:7, NLT (Paul writing)

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. … So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face Him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. — 1 John 4:16-18, NLT

I’m still afraid of roller coasters. But I am not afraid of death, nor illness, nor things that threaten the status quo or move me out of my comfort zone. Following Jesus, the resurrected Son of God, is gradually calming my fears.

How about you? What are you afraid of?

Photo credit: Hersheypark’s Storm Runner roller coaster

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Comments

  1. Charlie,

    What a wonderfully simple but profound reflection. Your writing is thoughtful, engaging, gracious, and Christ-honoring. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. As usual, Charlie, this is an incredibly insightful essay. I find that through my faith in Christ, I do things I’m afraid of doing. Not the superficial stuff like roller coasters, which I still avoid. But in Christ, I do things I know that I can’t do. It seems God empowers me to do things in spite of my fears and after assuring me that they can be done, God sets those fears aside.

    God bless!

    Mark

  3. I’m afraid of nighttime intruders entering my home and harming my kids or me while my husband is away at work.

    I’m afraid of tragedy or calamity happening to my kids.

    I’m noticing that most (all?) of my fears are related to trying to keep my life for myself (Matt 16:25) instead of giving up my life for Him. When I’m focused on Christ and his kingdom, fears for my own and my family’s well being and safety fade away.

  4. 2

    new thoughts: (1) that these were seasoned sailors afraid of the storm and (2) that as we grow in Christ, we are living on an edge with change and challenges…an interesting visual that seems accurate. Love, Mom

    I see I reversed your picture of what happens in the middle and what happens on the edge…my edge moves.

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