Wednesday, December 10, 2014

That Fear Thing

Yesterday, I said that faith is the answer to all of life's questions because it changes the ground that we stand on. I also said that man might be tempted to think that courage is the answer to fear. There are many who have read this and might be thinking to themselves, "Well, yes. Faith is the answer at least to fear." 

Sort of.

This is one of the things I think we have gotten terribly wrong in our current framework. We talk about faith being the answer to fear, and it is. And it is not. What we have to figure out first is what kind of fear we are talking about.

There is an existential kind of fear that faces life's biggest questions. Who are we? Who is God? What are we doing here? Are we enough? Are we meant to be more? Is this all there is? These are the questions we face when we look in the mirror, and it's enough to keep a soul up at night. It is to this kind of fear that faith is the answer. Because outside of faith, there is no answer.

Unless we have faith in God and His story, we cannot know who we are. We cannot know who He is. We can't figure out what purpose means. There's no way, by this world's standards, to ever know if we are enough. (Indeed, one might argue, by this world's standards, we never can be enough.) Apart from faith that something bigger is happening, we cannot imagine we could be anything more, we cannot imagine there could be anything more at all. Apart from faith, when we look in the mirror, we stand face-to-face with the fullness of our humanity and cannot see the holy in us. It's haunting. Faith is absolutely the answer to this kind of fear. Even here, it changes the ground on which we stand. 

In faith, we stand on holy ground.

Where we've gotten it wrong is that we have extended faith as the answer to existential fear to include faith as the answer to natural fear, and this...this is foolishness. There are fears that are natural to a man. Fear of stumbling upon a rattlesnake on a hike. Fear of falling off a high cliff. Fear of drowning in a lake. Fear of being mugged in a dark alley at night.

And there are those among us who say, "Faith is bigger than fear! Grab that rattlesnake by the tail and believe!" And there are those among us who condemn themselves for being afraid of anything at all because they think it has something to do with faith. Let me tell you something - I'm afraid of rattlesnakes. (And all other snakes, for that matter.) I'm not real thrilled about heights. I'm not a fan of water where my feet can't touch the bottom. I walk through dark alleys, if I must walk through them at all, with eyes wide open. And not one of these things has a lick to say about how much I believe in God or don't believe in God.

Because God tells us Himself He is not, at present, the authority of this world. There are things down here that merit a little fear every now and then, and it's fear that stands in the space of courage, not faith. Although faith can still change the ground we stand on.

These natural fears we face, they're not about life's biggest questions. They aren't even about life's bigger questions. I don't lie awake at night worried about rattlesnakes or cliffs or waters or alleys. I don't look in the mirror and see snake food and wonder what it all means. Faith isn't going to answer these things for me. But faith can draw me into the deeper questions that it can answer.

Faith can make me look at the fangs and think about life and how frail it is. It can make me consider why I fear losing my life. It can make me wonder about what I have of any value that a bad man in an alley could take from me. Faith is always about these kinds of questions. It has to be.

So it's right to say that faith is the answer to fear, but not in the way that we want to use it. Faith draws us deeper into places where the questions matter most. If we let it, it draws us away from the natural fear and into the existential one and there, only there, can it begin to answer. That's where it changes the ground. That's where it gives us somewhere new to put our feet down.

Fear is okay. It's a natural product of man living in a fallen world. And it doesn't always speak so loudly about our faith as we think it does. But it's an invitation to the deeper questions. It's an invitation we ought to accept.

Lest a man spend his life looking in the mirror wondering only if he is really snake food.

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