A few Sundays ago, I had a rather long, raw-ly honest, heartfelt conversation with an elder. The topic?
We weren't talking about a threatening fear. Not the kind of fear you'd have if, say, someone was pointing a gun to your head or you were walking through a dark parking lot at night by yourself or you were standing on the edge of a cliff and felt the guardrail start to wiggle. Those are fear, too, but honestly? That's not the greatest fear we have.
Our greatest fears are more insipidous. They are quieter fears, subtler fears. Nothing that maybe seems life and death, or even dangerous, on the surface but which captivates our hearts and holds us hostage nonetheless. Fear of failure. Fear of unworthiness. Fear of the future. Fear of the past. Fear of regression. Nagging little fears that are all but small.
These are the kind of fears we're more likely to have to face. Eventually, time comes to pass, and we're tired of being held down by fear of being more and we have to decide if it's worth not living to secure not failing...which we finally find ironic because we realize that not living is the failure in itself. It's deciding we can't hide and tiptoe and plan and control anymore just because we fear to trust. At some point, we have to trust...and that's a risk, but is it a greater risk than living in fear?
In the grips of fear, it's hard to take another step forward.
In the grips of this shepherd - my trembling hand wrapped by his strong one - he used my fear to challenge my faith. Oddly enough, by encouraging me to use faith to challenge my fear.
I've been thinking about that a lot since that morning. How could faith be the answer to fear?
I'm not convinced it is enough to say, "I believe in God. What is there to fear?" because that doesn't seem to answer my questions. That is, it is a broad overgeneralization of what is truth and in itself, it doesn't speak to what I'm asking in my fear. Because the fact that there is a God, that He loves me, that I believe in Him, and that He hears me is not really enough to counteract the circumstance in front of me. It's got to be more specific than that.
Fear is our realization that we are somehow lacking. That we are not enough. That we are weak. That we are inadequate. It is realizing we are up against something that seems so much bigger than we are, and may in fact be that much bigger. It is realizing that in our own skin, we have little or no resistance to offer. It is realizing we are pitifully weak.
Faith, however, is our belief in something bigger. It is our belief in something stronger. It is our belief in something adequate, something more than adequate. It is our belief in something capable. It is our belief in something that is not lacking. It is our belief in something strong enough.
That's where faith is the answer.
I know it sounds odd to say that it's not enough to know there is a God and then say that believing in something bigger - like, I don't know...God - is faith that is the answer. But it's true. I don't need to believe there is a God. I don't need to believe He loves me. I don't need to believe he hears me. I don't need to believe that I believe in Him. These simply do not answer fear.
What I need to know about God is what He is in direct contrast to fear. I need to believe He is bigger than the really big question I'm facing. I need to believe He is stronger than its hold on me. I need to believe He is adequate, more than adequate, that it is within His realm of skills and abilities to handle the problem. I need to believe He is capable, that His promise is more than temporary. I need to believe He is full and whole and wholly present to handle this. I need to believe God is strong enough to stand before my fear where I am simply too weak.
That's what I need for faith to answer fear. Not belief in some abstract God who is theoretically big enough, strong enough, able enough, good enough to handle things. But a tangible belief in a specifically strong God, a God who answers the questions I'm asking.
Fear is a series of questions. It is an interrogation of the heart, questioning places in man where we know we haven't got an answer. Faith - an honest faith that is the answer to fear - is faith in a God who doesn't necessarily answer our hearts. He answers our fears. He stands in and takes the questions. He intercepts and intercedes on our behalf to give fear the answers it doesn't want to hear. We don't just need a God. We don't just need a God who answers us. We need a God who answers fear.
Luckily, we have one.
What is there to be afraid of?