Monday, August 24, 2009

A Community of Fear

Living by faith is hard. That’s true even for those of us who don’t live in a part of the world where Christians are persecuted for their faith. This is because the difficulty that we Christians struggle with the most isn’t imposed upon us from the outside world. The source of our difficulty, as we struggle to live by faith, comes from within. It’s fear.

The scriptures recognize this very real human predicament when God’s says, “Don’t be afraid” again and again. We hear those words as God makes an outlandish promise to Isaac, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Genesis 26:24b). After an angel visits Mary in the middle of night and scares the bajeebers out of her, the angel announces, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). As Jesus visits a leader of the synagogue named Jairus, who pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter, Jesus tells him, “Do not fear. Only believe and she will be saved” (Luke 8:50). These are just a few of the verses we could cite. People of faith have always struggled with fear and God has always addressed their fear.

Although fear may challenge our faith, faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is courageously facing our fears. Thankfully, God has given us the gift of community so that we don’t have to face our fears alone. Despite the fact that we often use the phrase “community of faith” in reference to the church, it is also a “community of fear.” In fact, it may be our very real human experience of fear that unites us more than our faith.

I’m convinced that none of us choose to live as part of the church because we are such faith-full people. Instead, we choose to live as part of the church because we want to be faith-full people. We long to release the fears we carry within us and replace those fears with faith. So we hang out with others who also want to be faith-full people and we travel the journey of faith together. At any given time, within the church, some of us are fearful and some of us are faithful. No one is fearful all the time and no one is faithful all the time. But there are always enough of the faithful among us to carry the rest of us along.

To live by faith is not to have a direct pipeline to God. It is not to live with certainty. It is not to blindly accept everything as it is without questioning. And it is most assuredly not to live without fear. Living by faith is trusting that God’s grace never fails, even when we fail to trust in God. Living by faith is finding peace amongst the ambiguities of life. It is daring to face the truth about ourselves, because God who already knows the truth about us loves us completely. Living by faith is courageously facing our fears, knowing that God has given us all that we need to do so.

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