FEAR OR FAITH
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The Golden Gate Bridge in California got way behind schedule when it was being built. There were so many casualties, and the men were afraid of falling off. A huge safety net was placed beneath the area of operations, but for a time this made no difference. Then a man fell off into the net. When he came up smiling the men knew they were safe, and from that moment the project leaped ahead.
When fear rules men are cowards. When faith reigns men are courageous. Carlyle said that the ultimate question every man has to face and answer for himself is this: "Wilt thou be a hero or a coward?" This was the decision Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, had to make in the crisis he faced when his daughter was dying, and even pronounced dead. He was caught in a bind, for the facts seem to support fear, and yet Jesus in verse 36 said, "Be not afraid, only believe." Jesus was saying that faith is the only soil in which the seed of hope will grow. If you forsake faith, the plant will wither, and you will be a victim of fear. Don't do it Jesus said. Don't give in to fear even when all the evidence supports it, for faith is not limited by the evidence.
Faith not only can change the future, it can altar the past. Faith not only rises above the knowledge of man, it sometimes must choose to go even contrary to knowledge. The unknown can stimulate either fear or faith, courage or cowardice. By the authority of Jesus the Christian is to choose faith, even in the face of negative evidence.
Faith, mighty faith, promise sees,
And looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities
And cries, it shall be done!
But sometimes it doesn't get done. Sometimes the impossibilities laugh back. The fearful forces of evil win the battle. The storm does sink the ship. The sick child does die. The maniac is not cured and the disease is not healed. There is much evidence to support those who chose the way of fear rather than faith.
If Jesus meant to teach by His series of miracles in Mark 4 and 5, in which He conquered danger, demons, disease, and death, that the Christian need never worry about these, since he would be miraculously spared from them all, then we have great reason to be disappointed. The fact is that Christians do suffer from all of these afflictions, and none yet have escaped death. The purpose of Jesus in all of these miracles is to convey to us that we need not fear any evil when it strikes, and succeeds in doing its worst, for as Lord of all He is superior to all the forces that produce fear.
The demons had succeeded in making the man a slave. The sickness of the woman in verses 25-34 had succeeded in making her life miserable for 12 years. Death had succeeded in taking the life of this 12 year old child. Jesus does not pretend that all of these evils are just fictions. They are real, but He makes it clear that they are only temporal. Therefore, fear ought not to be our motivation in life, but faith ought to be, for faith leads to the ultimate, and is assured of eternal victory over all fearful foes. All of this show of miraculous power, however, would not have been necessary if fear was not a powerful foe, so let's consider for a while-
I. THE POWER OF FEAR.
In January of 1966 a federal court jury decided that fear, and fear alone, is an injury sufficient to cause death. This was in connection with the death of 47 year old Ralph Thompson. He was a third mate on a vessel driven into the center of Valdez, Alaska by the title wave in 1964. He suffered no visible injury, but fear caused such a psychic injury that he died. It is a fact that fear can kill you. You can be scared to death. It can also make living extremely miserable. Lloyd C. Douglas said, "If a man harbors any sort of fear, it percolates through all his thinking, damages his personality, makes him landlord to a ghost."
Poor King Herod did not want to kill John the Baptist at the request of a dancing girl, but fear of ridicule drove him to an evil shocking to his own mind. Fear of being mocked and laughed at, or rejected, leads millions of people into doing acts of folly or evil they despise. They are victims of the power of fear. They are landlords to a ghost. Most of the foolish things teenagers do, they do out of fear of being laughed at or rejected by their peers.
Modern psychiatry has demonstrated that fear has been able to draft a large army of slaves by its power. It can produce every illness from the common cold to crippling arthritis. Masses of people are nervous, depressed, irritable, sleepless, and just generally tired all because they are victims of fear. Fear is a power to be reckoned with. It challenges faith by performing wonders. It can take a normal healthy person, and like magic turn them into an invalid. We think faith is marvelous when it turns the invalid into a normal healthy person. Why not give fear credit for its power to do the negative and opposite wonder?
F. D. Roosevelt knew what he was talking about when he said in 1933, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." It was not original with him, however, for men have known this all along. Thoreau wrote, "Nothing is so much to be feared as fear." The Duke of Wellington said, "The only thing I am afraid of is fear." Montaigne said, "The thing of which I have most fear is fear." It is the power that keeps the world in turmoil continuously. Centuries ago Epictetus said, "It is not death or hardship that is a fearful thing, but the fear of hardship and death." Once a person is captured by fear there does not have to be any real danger to make him a slave. The person obsessed with fear soon finds all of life a threat. Wordsworth wrote,
My apprehensions came in crowds;
I dread the rustling of the grass;
The very shadows of the clouds
Have power to shake me as they pass;
I question things and do not find
One that will answer to my mind,
And all the world appears unkind.
This is the kind of fear that evil forces delight in. Natural fear is a benefit to people, and is a God given instinct for self-protection and preservation, but this neurotic fear makes us slaves rather than free men. The natural fear of snakes while walking through the jungle is able to keep a man cautious and alive. The neurotic fear of snakes keeps a man dead to life while he lives. Dictators make good use of this power of neurotic fear. Hitler said he could achieve everything with systematic terror.
Otto Dibelius, bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin/ Brandenburg, suffered under the tyranny of Nazism and Communism, and he wrote, "Every totalitarian state proclaims night and day: "Enemies all around! If we don't employ our ultimate strength in our defense, we shall be lost the day after tomorrow." The state must use this fear, for in their cowardice people will do everything the state demands. They will make every sacrifice, intensify their labors-everything for the deity of the state whose power they regard as their only protection." Fear is the means by which the majority of the world are made slaves and puppets by a powerful minority. None can doubt the great power of fear in our world. Even the so called free people of the world are slaves of a thousand and one fears. The evidence is strong that fear is sovereign in our day just as it was in the day of Christ, but Jesus says, "Be not afraid, only believe." Jesus recognizes the power of fear, but He recognizes faith to be more powerful, and urges us to forsake fear and fly to faith. Now let us consider-
II. THE POWER OF FAITH.
Many of the great men of history were cowards until God persuaded them to chose faith over fear. Moses wanted to be counted out in the great plan of God to deliver the Jews from the Egyptians. He said he was not eloquent and just could not do it. Gideon took the same line when God wanted him to lead his people to victory. His excuse was that he was from such a poor home, and was just a nobody. So many of God's chosen men were like Saul hiding behind the luggage like fearful cowards when God was looking for faithful heroes. But when these men chose faith rather than fear they became the very heroes they were sure they could never be. What fear says is impossible faith brings to pass.
A woman who was no longer young, and who was yet unmarried was fearful that she might miss out on this sublime human experience. So she went to her pastor for advice. The pastor hid behind a pious platitude and said, "Well the Lord has a plan, one woman for every man, and one man for every woman. You can't improve on that." She said, "I don't want to improve on it, I just want to get in on it." Most of us feel this way about the power of faith over fear. It is wonderful, and we don't want to improve on it, we just want to get in on it. Who of us does not long to bid our fears to flee before the power of faith? Who of us does not want to respond in obedience to Jesus when He says to believe and not be afraid? Who of us does not desire to say with David, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" Certainly the greatest security in life would be in a faith powerful enough to conquer all fears.
Faith is a risk. Jesus says, dare to trust me. He does not give you proof, but like the airlines He says, trust me and try me. The airlines depend upon faith for their existence. They cannot prove to you that their mechanics made no mistakes, and that their pilots are beyond error. Dare to trust us is all they can say. Faith is a choice you must make before the evidence is all in. Afterward, there is no need for faith. When the girl is well you don't need any faith for it is a fact, and you need only to acknowledge it then. The restaurant says, dare to trust us, our food will not hurt you. The doctor says, dare to trust me, I will not fail you. The druggist says, dare to trust me, I will give you only what will help and not harm. Life would come to a screeching halt if we did not live by faith.
Helen Keller in her book, Let Us Have Faith, makes it clear that faith is the source of her amazing life of victories in spite of blindness. "In my doubly shadowed world faith gives me reason for trying to draw harmony out of a marred instrument. Faith is not a cushion for me to fall back upon, it is my working energy."
In 1809 Dr. Ephraim McDowell had to make an agonizing decision. Mr. Thomas Crawford had traveled 60 miles to see if he could save his life. The only hope was an abdominal operation that had never been performed. This backwards doctor knew the chances were slim, and so did everyone else. A mob gathered and threw a rope over a tree. They were ready to hang the doctor for murder if the patient died. He took the risk and the patient lived. Every operation for appendicitis since then goes back to that act of faith over fear. It happened on a Christmas morning. By faith he gave life where death was certain, without this act of faith. Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote,
Not truth, but faith, it is
That keeps the world alive. If all at once
Faith were to slacken-that unconscious faith
Which must, I know, yet be the cornerstone
Of all believing-birds now flying fearless
Across would drop in terror to the earth;
Fishes would drown; and the all-governing reins
Would tangle in the frantic hands of God
And the world's gallop headlong to destruction.
Catherine Marshall said she had this foolish concept of faith for years, that faith was a matter of feeling. She knew it would be silly to go to the train station and board the first car she saw, and then sit down and try to feel whether or not that was the right train to get her where she wanted to go. But in the spiritual realm she practiced that, and tried to feel forgiven, for example, instead of trusting God at His word, that if she confessed it, He would forgive. Faith is so surprisingly simple that it took her a while to realize it was just a matter of trusting God enough to act on His word. She said, "Were we to use the muscles of our legs as little as we do the muscles of our faith, most of us would be unable to stand."
The first thing we need to do is to recognize that faith is a matter of the inner man. You cannot change the world and all of its real dangers. They are here and here to stay as long as time shall be. How one responds to what is, is determined by his inner nature. Sometimes a herd of cattle can be stampeded by the snap of a finger, while other times a rifle shot will not send them on a rampage. The difference depends upon their inner condition. Modern psychology tells us that man is the same. There is an implosion before an explosion. That is, he goes to pieces within, and is shattered inside before he explodes on the outside.
It is faith that keeps the inner man unified and secure so that externals do not fill him with fear and anxiety. When Jesus said to Jairus, "Do not be afraid, only believe," He was urging him to maintain his trust in Him, and not let externals overthrow it. What was he to believe? Was it the doctrine of the trinity, the virgin birth, the atonement? No, there is no content to basic faith other than simple trust in the person of Christ. A few weeks ago, with my fear of heights, I found myself looking down on Pittsburgh from thousands of feet above. I never once thought of all the papers I wrote on theology. I never once considered any theological position for assurance. My faith consisted solely in a trust in the person of Christ. This is faith reduced to its essence-a personal trust in one who is Lord, and who alone gives ultimate meaning to life.
Every conceivable danger can happen to a Christian, but a Christian knows that with his personal trust in Christ, as ultimate victory over all evil, he cannot lose whatever the externals bring, for even death will usher him into the presence of Christ. Our faith in Christ is not based on fantasy, but on fact. This was the purpose of His miracles, that each of us in fearful circumstances might be able to hear and heed His counsel, "be not afraid, only believe."