Faith & Fear
“Fear imprisons while faith liberates. Fear paralyzes while faith empowers. Fear disheartens while faith encourages. Fear sickens while faith heals. Fear makes useless while faith makes serviceable. And most of all fear puts hopelessness at the heart of all while faith rejoices in God.” – Harry Emerson Fosdick
All of us have known fear. It is a part of life and a very important part, for it warns us of real dangers. It can keep us on our toes, sharpen our senses and make us careful when such care is necessary for our well-being.
On the other hand fear has its limits. Sometimes we let a fear of some kind dominate our lives and it paralyzes us from living whole lives. Our fear becomes a prison for us and prevents us from taking the necessary risks that come with life in the journey toward growth and maturity.
We have examples of how fear threatened to scuttle the project of humanity’s growth in faith in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the Old Testament we see Moses who has been told by Yahweh to go down to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Moses begs God to let his brother Aaron go in his place. His fears are profound, and rooted in the knowledge of what he had done before he left Egypt, and also in his own abilities to speak well enough to convince Pharaoh. He, of course, overcomes this fear with God’s help, and brings about the liberation of his people from slavery.
In the New Testament we have the great story of the storm at sea. The apostles and Jesus are in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. They get caught in a raging storm half way across and Jesus is asleep. The disciples are frantic, fearful, angry with Jesus for his lack of concern at their plight. Jesus’ response was: “Why are you so afraid, have you no faith?”
On another occasion, Jesus has sent the disciples ahead in a boat, then went up into the mountains to pray. In the middle of the night, they see him walking across the water. Peter says, “Lord, if it is really you, call me out there with you.” Jesus does, and Peter gets out of the boat and begins walking on the water, until he takes his eyes off of Jesus and becomes fearful and begins to sink. He calls out again, “Save me, Lord” at which Jesus reaches out and pulls Peter up to him and they both get into the boat.
The invitation here in both cases is to turn your fears over to God. Let God and his infinite love and mercy calm you, encourage you, and give you the hope that you need to confront your fears, to find the courage to overcome them, to put them behind you and to move on toward the goals that God has set for you.
In the New Testament Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” to the disciples on many occasions. The disciples were just like us. They could see the power of Jesus’ message, they could see his gracefulness and his courage and they wanted to be around it, to be a part of it, and to, finally, be like Jesus. They could see that his words were full of truth, goodness and beauty. Yet they, too, were subject to the same kinds of fears as we; fears of our own inadequacy, fears of the misunderstanding, the rejection, even of the hatred that others might have of us if we begin to act as Jesus wants us to in the world.
Our fears, like those of the disciples are real. They may even have roots in our own life histories. Many of our fears are legitimate and must be paid attention to. But many of our fears are false fears and must be faced and overcome. It we let them confine us, or gnaw at us without naming them, they will control us, imprison us, keep us from being the fully alive persons God wants us to be.
Give your fears over to God then. Speak of them to your friends, your families, if need be to pastors, or counselors, and let God work through them to help set you free. God made us for freedom. He made us to love him and one another and this can only be done by us if we are free. Fear constrains our capacity to love. Faith opens it up to receive and, in turn, to give out that same generous and unlimited love of God to others.
Be not afraid, brothers and sisters. Like Peter, if we keep our eyes on Jesus, he will help us conquer our fears, even if we fail at times. God is with us. God is for us. Believe in God and he will set you free.
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.