On September 11, 2001, Americans entered into a daily existence that much of the world already experienced; living with the continual threat of terrorism. Yet, since that tragic day, we have been gripped by the oppressive power of fear, a fear that the media and our political leaders want to consistently bring to our attention. While appropriate measures of security are necessary to defend against violence, fear only suppresses our desire to live with a sense of hope, and it essentially leads us away from living life with faith in the face of fear.
One of the more interesting biblical stories detailing the contrast between faith and fear appears in Mark 4:35-41, where we find Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. In the midst of their nautical journey to the other side, a raging storm quickly arises and threatens their lives. While the story shows Jesus as a miracle worker who has power over creation, the impact of the story on its readers speaks directly to the empowering strength of faith to overcome the crippling force of fear in the face of evil.
It goes without saying that the disciples were afraid of the storm, for they believed that they were about to perish under the torrent of the sea. Yet, a deeper understanding of the force of the story rests on the ancient understanding of the sea as a power of evil and chaos that threatens God’s good creation. Simply put, people of the ancient world held the view that the sea was under the power of evil and the unpredictable storms on the sea were a challenge to the creation and a threat of the return of chaos.
But the theology of the story hinges on the dialogue between two characters; Peter, who represents all the disciples in their fear, and Jesus, who calmly sleeps as the storm rages. In Jesus, we discover a peaceful composure and the assurance of God’s presence, even as evil seems to be winning. In Peter, we witness a dramatic picture of human fear in the face of evil’s most powerful force, death.
Since that horrific day in September of 2001, some politicians have used those tragic events to attempt to convince us that we ought to be afraid. This fear mongering rhetoric defines the world in black and white terms, seeing only good or evil. The now infamous “war on terror” tagline has become the rationale for waging war, torturing prisoners, and infringing on the freedoms we have always cherished, all in the name of national security. Moreover, the use of fear as a campaign tactic has created the myth that only one political party can save our nation, while the other will surrender to the terrorists.
What shocks me the most about all of this rhetoric is that many Christians have bought into the fear movement. There are probably many reasons for allowing ourselves to be duped by fear, but I suppose one reason is the false belief that the preservation of American culture is the same as the preservation of our Christian faith. Yet, the reality is that if we surrender to fear, we will lose our faith in God, and we will become less than the humans we were created to be.
The succumbing to the power of fear has produced a rising tide of xenophobia, intolerance, and irrationalism. Moreover, irrational fear is precisely the motivation behind the ever extending trajectory of Internet stories and email messages falsely reporting that one particular presidential candidate is a Muslim and that we ought not vote for him if we want to preserve our Christian culture.
In response to the irrationality of fear, Christians must look to the one who faced the tragedy of death with faith in the God of the living. As Jesus faced his looming death by crucifixion, he did not let the manipulative power of fear overtake him. Rather, he turned to God in trusting faith. This faith led Jesus to reject the force of fear and to embrace the calling of God to go to the cross.
Fear is a powerful force, but if allowed to have control, fear draws us from God and God’s call for us to live faithfully in the world. The biblical message calls us not to fear, but to have faith, for faith is the only divinely given power that combats and defeats our fears. While threats to our security, whether as a nation or as individuals, naturally produce feelings of fear, we must follow the model of Jesus, who at the most vulnerable point in his life, turned to the God who gives the hope and the faith that overcomes all fear.