Thursday, August 20, 2009

Faith and Fear

It has taken me a long time to realize that the opposite of faith is fear. I base this observation on the effect that each one of these actions has on my daily life. Whereas faith draws me closer to God, fear tends to drive me away from Him, almost shy away and go into myself. A much worse version of being somehow caught with one's hand in the cookie jar.

While I often talk about faith and living in faith, if I am honest I often catch myself configuring my life and how I live my life around fear. Such thoughts as "what happens if I didn't pray out of the right motives and God doesn't come through" or " I cannot just sit here and pray" continually dog me. This puzzles me as time and time again God has shown me that He is faithful and yet, despite this I still find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some of this angst seems to be rooted in a sense that I am not strong enough or good enough to be blessed and cared for by God. This is in total contradiction to what is in the Bible in passages like Matthew C5 - C7, and I know that; so why do I let this stuff keep hanging around?

Consistently throughout the bible there are admonishments not to fear but to trust in God. Joshua is a prime example where in the first Chapter of Joshua, as he prepares to take over from Moses, he is told to be strong, courageous and not to be afraid (Joshua C 1 v 6-9). I guess I can take some comfort from the fact that as God emphasized to Joshua this was something not to do, presumably it was something that Joshua was struggling with .......... although taking comfort in that manner is somewhat akin to one passenger on the Titanic saying to another passenger on the Titanic " never mind were all in the same boat!". The Psalms also seem to contain a lot about fear and overcoming fear as do Proverbs. Perhaps the most telling verse though occurs in 1 John C4 v 16 -18:

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love, because perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (NIV).

Not being made perfect in love as a reason for being fearful is perhaps not the most intuitive explanation that springs to my mind and something that has given me cause to ponder. However, upon reflection, there maybe some merit in it........

The nearest thing I can liken it to are some of my exploits as a child. When I had done something I shouldn't (which unfortunately was not that an infrequent occurrence!) any elation that might be associated with the act was fairly quickly replaced with a slowly growing concern with what would happen if I was found out and had to face my parents. The first alternative was to lie and I tried that periodically, but generally I was not to good at that. So it seemed that my only alternative was to try and bury it and hope I wasn't found out. There then followed an uneasy period when I was in the presence of my parents wondering whether they would find out, whether they already knew or whether I was going to betray to them something had happened by not acting "normal". In essence, regardless of whether or not I was found out, our relationship was severed as I wasn't at all at peace because I was constantly worried that what I had done would come to the surface. I n addition to a feeling of guilt there was also the associated sense of shame of having let people down, of failing to meet expectations, of breaking trust and a whole host of other things. Later on I realized that I wasn't the first person to go through this cycle, one only has to read the biblical account of the fall in the early Chapters of Genesis to realize that Adam and Eve went through the same thing.

Inevitably, many of the things that I had done wrong did come to light and I was faced with standing before my parents. When I think back there were two things I feared. The first was the immediate consequences which were invariably not that pleasant. The second, possibly more subconscious fear, was this the act that would have blown it, that my parents would finally give up on me and justifiably (in my mind) abandon me and I would be left alone, unloved and out of options. Thankfully, while the immediate consequences, usually involving some form of restitution were never too pleasant, the second series of consequences that I feared the most never came about.

Fast forward to adult life and the childhood example above has not changed that much in concept just in application. It now has to do with fear related to times I have hurt others by doing what is expedient either personally or professionally rather than what was right; of the fear of having deceived myself and my family that I really could provide all the things I thought they had to have immediately, and racking up so much debt in the process to the point of it being unbearable; of the fear of the consequences engaging in occupations and pastimes that were often focused on personal gratification without a thought for the consequences on those around me; of the fear of being found out of being patronizing and uncompassionate to others who had been caught doing what I had not yet been caught doing; and/or the fear of loosing the love and respect of those I love the most. The list can go on and on and I guess we all could substitute similar or different incidents in our lives. As with the childhood example they cause a severing of relationship, but this time we discover to our horror that this severing of relationship extends beyond our earthly circle of friends and acquaintances to God; whatever our concept of God maybe. The thought that we might have contravened/severed a relationship with a heavenly being who probably knows everything we have done anyway is daunting in itself. It becomes even more terrifying when we are faced with the possibility that while we might be able to attempt some earthly restitution, we do not even know how to begin reconciling ourselves to God and obtaining some heavenly restitution.

The bad news about this predicament is that we in and of ourselves cannot make restitution to God. The really good news is that we don't have to; as a Christian I understand that is what Jesus Christ did on my behalf, even though I didn't deserve it (You can read about this in Romans C3 v 9 -30). Christians commonly term this as "Grace" which boils down to us being reconciled to God purely on the merits of what Christ did through His life, death and resurrection ( if you would like to talk more about this aspect E-Mail me and I will do my best to share and explain how I understand this fits together). In other words, Christians believe they have been given an amazing free gift they don't really deserve and through that they have a personal relationship with God. For those of you who are reading this that are Christians you are probably thinking that this is Christianity 101, so what is his point! I guess my point is, if so many of ustruely believe this, why do we find it so hard to live in grace in practice?

Based on my limited observations it would appear that a lot of Christians, myself included, struggle to live in the light of the Grace we proclaim. We live fearful lives where we just seem to be surviving day-to-day and if the truth be known, we don't act that much differently from our non-Christian friends. We are consumed with fears about health, inadequacy in our jobs or roles as parents, lack of money, retaining jobs, having to remain strong and deal with everything life throws at us by ourselves because if we don't we are somehow incomplete. In this environment we become subject to the same struggles with depression, marriage breakdown, addictions etc. and our victorious Christian life degenerates to one of pleading in the hope that maybe we can convince/coerce God into doing something. At this juncture I should state that I am not suggesting that as Christians we will not be assailed with some of these things and that sometimes they just seem so huge, so overbearing and or painful we buckle as we try to sustain pressure which God never intended us to sustain alone.

So what lies at the root of our struggles to live in the Grace which we have been freely given? In my own case I am drawn back to the little boy that stood in front of his parents knowing that some restitution that was inevitable but desperately hoping that he had not blown it and thankfully they never did stop ;loving me. However, this time around I realize that I am now stood in front of God and despite what it says in the Bible, despite the assurances I have received I am having a hard time believing/living that I haven't blown it that despite the mistake I have made I can come before Him and know that through Christ I am loved, will not be rejected and can seek and obtain forgiveness as He is determined that in Christ we will not be seperated (You can read about this bit in Romans C8 v 26 -39). I don't have to stay in the background desperately trying to patch things up by myself to salavage some level of "respectability"; fearful, because as the verse from 1 John ( way back at the beginning of this entry) says, there is no fear in love as fear has to do punishment. So perhaps what I should be striving for is not so much related to being freed from fear but rather being perfected in love ........... because if that happens I should end up being freed from fear.

All great theory, but the question then arises as to how do I become perfected in love. That is something I am still learning, but I think some of that has to do with taking God at His word even when I doubt that somehow he hadn't anticipated the things I have done when those words were spoken and consequently they don't really apply to me. Therefore, the best I can hope for is to try my best and just hope I scrape into heaven in at the end! This is where the faith that counters the fear comes in .... am I prepared to trust God at his word, to claim the promises about asking, seeking, finding and being provided for that it talks about in the well known passages of Matthew Chapters 5 -7? One part of me says that it can't be that straightforward, it has to be more complicated than that, yes I am sure God means what he says ........ but.............? Within that "but" perhaps lies my biggest fear in this whole faith vs fear dilemma that it might actually just be that simple and straightforward and that it involves total commitment with no holding back (Hebrews C11 v 1 -2; Matthew C16 v 24-28) .............. I think sometimes I would actually prefer it to be more complicated as that way I could sort of test things out while maintaining a Veto ............ but that is another story!


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