Fear or Faith
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith.”
– Matthew 8:23-26
There are many things in our world today that are causing fear. Changes in the economy have led to the loss of many jobs that ruined a middle class income. Health care costs are rising at unprecedented levels. Our country is becoming far more ethnically diverse and this has led to shifts in power, and cultural changes that leave some wondering what happened to the America they thought they lived in. There have also been changes in what is considered to be morally acceptable, especially in the area of marriage equality. It’s no wonder that fear has been at least one of the factors that has led to a highly conflicted and divisive campaign season.
Fear arises in the midst of feeling threatened in some way. In the case of the disciples, a violent storm threatened their safety on the sea of Galilee. This is certainly understandable. However, their fear drove them to imagine an impending catastrophe. “We are perishing!” This is what typically happens when we allow our fear to overwhelm us. In a knee-jerk way, we come to the conclusion that the worst possible scenario is about to take place. Why? In a word, the issue is control. The fact is, they were not necessarily perishing. It was their fear, coupled with their inability to control the situation, that led to their conclusion.
Jesus shows them another way to respond. His question suggests that fear is not necessary in the face of what looks like a threat, and where we lack the ability to control what might happen next. A better response would be faith.
But what does he mean by faith here, and how does faith replace fear? Faith is a relational word. When we have faith, we have faith in something or someone. (Trust is another good way of expressing what Jesus is talking about). When faith replaces fear, a threatening situation over which we have no control loses its power over us. Why? Because we have faith in the One who does have control. We believe that the One who does have control will use whatever threat we perceive for some good purpose. There is no need for fear because, even if we don’t know where the situation may lead, we trust the goodness of the One who does.
There are many changes underway in our world at the present time. In the past, there have been even more monumental changes. And while we don’t know where these changes may lead, and while we certainly are not in control of these shifts in the economy, the culture, or the moral standards, nevertheless, fear is not only unnecessary, it is harmful both spiritually, and in the potentially harmful behavior it can lead to. Faith, on the other hand, keeps our hearts rooted in the love of God. From this springs not fear but confidence, and an ability to envision change as leading to positive outcomes. When we are confident, we are also able to accept whatever the future may bring, knowing that, “at the end of the day” God is the ruler yet.
Gracious God, in the midst of things we often cannot understand, grant us faith in your promises, and peace in your presence.