I once heard it said that darkness doesn’t exist; rather it is simply the absence of light. I don’t know whether this is actually verifiable, but I do know where light isn’t, dark is. In fact, it is nearly impossible to describe darkness without making some reference to the light. Try describing darkness to someone and see how often the first words that come out are, “When all the lights are off”; or, “When everything goes black.” Darkness is only seen within the context of its relationship with light.
What is fear? There is another one I’ve recently thought about. How do you define fear? I don’t mean how do you describe your particular fears (whether spiders or close spaces), but fear itself. Where does it comes from? Scripture I think would reference fear in relationship to an absence of faith. Fear encroaches when faith departs (and it often isn’t satisfied with a small corner of the self).
We recently started a sermon series through the book of Luke where I minister. In that study I’ve noticed several themes I hadn’t before. For example, Luke focusses on the poor and destitute. The hurting and marginalized are the ones brought to the dinner table, and the Samaritan lepers are the true worshippers (Luke 14:13; 17:11-19). Many have pointed this out this in past, and its important to understanding Luke’s message.
But I’ve noticed something else as well: how often “faith” and “fear” were placed in relationship to each other. You see this particularly in chapter 8:
- The disciples in the storm (v. 25): “But he said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ and they were afraid.”
- The residents of Gerasenes (v. 33, 37, 39): “…for they were seized with great fear…and he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things God had done for him.”
- Jairus (v. 41-42; 50): “Do not be afraid, only believe.”
- The diseased woman (v. 47-48): “Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling…and he said to her, ‘Be of good cheer daughter, your faith has made you well.”
As you read through this text you realize that the fear in these situations was legitimate–a storm, social unrest, death of an only daughter, and chronic illness. These are the fears of daily life which paralyze humanity. Every day the News presents us with a fresh reason to fear: a natural disaster strikes a third world region leaving it destitute; another area of the country is rioting due to social injustice; a close friend or family member died unexpectedly; a new disease has infected a different part of the world. There is no denying the legitimacy of these fears.
And yet. And yet Jesus comes onto the scene with a simple refrain, which you almost see as a gentle cadence throughout the text: Do not be afraid, only believe. If we are honest, this seems somewhat audacious. Imagine for a moment someone said that to you as you lay in the hospital bed with a staph infection or cancer: “Don’t fear, only believe.” Or at your daughter’s funeral, “Don’t fear, only believe.” I imagine we would not only deride the person saying these things (as they did Jesus when he went to heal Jairus daughter), but we would be angry.
But as you keep reading you suddenly realize that there is some weight, some credence, to this simple refrain. Because the storm is now calm, the demons are quiet, the woman is healed, and the girl is alive. As the reader we experience the dawning awareness of the initial audience: “Is this really possible?” Maybe there is something to this faith thing after all. Because even though the storm can crash, Jesus can calm; the demons can cry out, but Jesus can cast them out; disease can debilitate us, but Jesus can rehabilitate us; little girls can die, but Jesus will wake them up.
These stories are teaching us something about what we lose through fear (the residents of the Garasenses), what we gain through faith (Jairus and the diseased woman), and what happens when God is in the boat. It shows us that faith isn’t separated from reality (we mustn’t simply spiritualize these accounts) but faces fear head on and creates a new reality through trusting this storm conquering, demon killing, disease defeating, death defying man called Jesus (who looks and sounds a lot like God). This is only possible because He is greater than the storm, higher than the demons, more powerful than the disease, and reigns over death. He is the fountain, the central object and personality of faith, and it is when we fail to see him in His glory that fear creeps in.
Every day we are given a choice: will we live in fear or faith? Do we allow the old ruler to assert his reign once again, or do we proclaim the sovereign rule of the new King who has crushed fear and death under the weight of His glory? The gentle cadence of his voice rises above the storm: do not fear, only believe.
Lord, we are surrounded by fears on every side. At times, the anxieties and the stress of daily living come upon us suddenly and we feel hopeless and helpless. But we also know that your Presence is a far greater reality than the passing worries that haunt us. Conquer our fear by faith Almighty God. Allow our trust in you to overwhelm our faithless hearts. Amen.