Between Fear and Faith (2 of 6)

Precaution is our natural instinct to danger. It’s a rational assessment of risk, realistically calculating our likely exposure to harm contrasted with being able to live our lives unencumbered by fear. Reasonable people may disagree with what percentage of exposure to harm they’re willing to live with before engaging in various measures of precaution. But what constitutes reasonable and rational, very often is interpreted on a sliding scale – allowing the phobic, possessed of irrational fear to assume that they too are simply being reasonably precautious . . . and there is no arguing with their calculations, because by definition, there is no argument irrational fear will ever be willing to hear.

Fear is arguably the most conspicuous impediment to faith — for it can quickly imagine every obstacle and scenario of calamity associated with every choice we make . . . preemptively compromising any confession of faith we may be inclined to speak. This likely occurs because we’ve allowed fear to masquerade as the rational voice of reason for too long, convincing us that being in control is how we keep calamity at bay. But believing we can control our exposure to every possible circumstance is the grand illusion of an irrational mind . . . which is why fear is best understood as a liar.

A lie can only thrive where the truth has been obscured – which is to say, a reasonable rationale has to be concocted in order for a lie to obfuscate the true nature of our circumstance. In other words, a lie requires an entire contextualized fictional narrative before it can appear reasonable – until our perspective has become so skewed that all of our fears begin to call the shots . . . pretending it will always protect us from the ugly truth about the world around us. Conversely, faith is not afraid of the truth.

The common misconception about faith is that it’s somehow at odds with rational thinking, suggesting that a person of faith is being irrational. It’s a misconception usually held by someone incapable of explaining the rationality of their own views without a self-affirming definition of rationality. But I would say faith is better explained as being beyond rational. Because rationality can only ever be an existential assessment of value, it will always be limited to the scope of the person making the assessment. In this regard, faith is more than willing to go as far as rationality . . . and then go beyond it – a distance that fear dare not go.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:31, 32. It is our relationship with the truth that eventually distinguishes our path between fear and faith. Faith is willing to humbly confess that truth is immutably transcendent, and then fearlessly accepts its conclusion – while fear can only linger in the shifting shadows of half-truths and out-right lies. To have faith is to look beyond your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5) . . . whereas, to have fear inevitably leads to being trapped in the rationale of your own understanding.

I’m not sure why, but this old Jackson Browne song
seems to always make me ponder the space between fear and faith

The Lie of Self-Existence

In describing the relationship between the cognitive process and the emotional state, Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Righteous Mind”, uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The rider (our intellect) might be able to get the elephant (our passions) to lean in one direction or another, at times – but just as often the elephant is likely to take its rider on a completely unplanned excursion. And even though the rider might like to think of himself as being in charge — the sheer girth, force, and volatility of the elephant, would suggest otherwise.

This is a truth, of which, advertisers and politicians have long subscribed – they don’t really need to convince your intellect, in order to win you over . . . they just need to feed your elephant what it already wants to eat. It is a diet involving two basic food groups – what we fear and what we desire . . . as these are primal passions that we respond to pre-cognitively — on a gut level. This is how the politician can take you from “everyone panic — it’s a crisis!” to “. . . and I have the solution”. And how the advertiser can take you from “I didn’t even know I needed it . . .” to “. . . I can’t live without it”. And this was how Satan took Adam and Eve from being comfortably contingent upon God, to wanting to become their own god. (Genesis 3:1-5)

This is not to suggest that the serpent is somehow responsible for the choice that Adam and Eve made – it was always their choice. And if we examine this choice at its most basic premise, it is ontological – as it fundamentally challenges the very nature of existence. If you believe that God exists, and that everything exists in him, then you know your own existence to be inextricably contingent upon God’s existence. But once you begin to entertain the idea that the nature of existence is a concept up for grabs – then it’s not that hard to imagine yourself as being your own god.

2bfa9e242cc5a4824a2de96dff43696acb530cec1431cfbb38614e089dc8008a_1This is how we accept the lie of self-existence – not as an intellectual conclusion, but rather, as a pronouncement of will, having no basis in reality, whatsoever. It is a contrived choice, created entirely out of fear and desire. We fear an existence that we can’t control – so we desire to control it. In this way, every sin of man is an ontological disavowing of his own existence. Even the rational mind of the non-theist ends up placing its faith in the theories of science to assuage the fear of being contingent upon a meaningless universe – inventing both the predicament and its imagined solution.

So inescapably, the confessions we make about existence will always dictate how we experience our existence – therefore, if your confession is at odds with reality, your experience of reality will be at odds. And even though your elephant rider may fully appreciate the logic of this fact — depending on the diet of your elephant, it won’t make a bit of difference. This is why it is the confession of our Christian faith that we fear God, and nothing else, and we seek to make him our preeminent desire – so that every other desire can be rightly placed into proportion with what it means to exist in him.


. . . and eventually you realize you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

What Is It That Haunts You?

What a person fears says a lot about them. It tells us what they value most. It gives us insight into how they conduct relationships. It allows us to see how they view themselves. The old adage “Fear is a great motivator” rings true to us, but what does it motivate? Then again, fear can just as easily incapacitate us, paralyzing us with indecision. Sometimes what we fear is apparent to us . . . but sometimes what we fear hides in our sub-conscience undetected, nudging us away from things, unbeknownst. So what do you fear?

There are three general categories that our fears fall into – the fear of the unknown, the fear of shame, and the fear of suffering. Then each of these three categories break into three subsequent categories:

Fear of the unknown – The unknown is a mystery, which includes everything about the future. We may be able to predict with a measure of certainty, but the unforeseen always lurks in the shadows – death being one of the most obscure shadows. The unknown that plagues our decision making. How do we know the choice we’re making will be the right one? We may end up with regret. The unknown of how we’ll respond. Will we hold up under pressure? Will we hold fast to what is right? All of these unknowns foster their own unique forms of fear.

Fear of shame – The shame of having all of our darkest thoughts and deeds exposed. The shame of what we did not do because some other fear held us hostage to inaction. The shame of feeling like our lives don’t matter—that we have no worth. Shame can be a very powerfully crippling form of fear, and can be the hardest to detect.

haunted-homesFear of suffering – We fear that we might have to suffer, whether emotionally or physically. We fear that a loved one might suffer, and all we can do is helplessly watch. We fear that we might be the cause of someone else’s suffering, regardless of our intent. The fear of suffering, in many ways, is the most obvious to us – but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

But there’s a fear that’s underneath them all – the fear of not being in control, and it is the fear we struggle with the most . . . because we can’t resist trying to be in control. It is this fear that is in direct competition with our fear of God – tempting us to believe that God has lost control, so we must step in. Which is rather foolish when you think about it – but fear isn’t always rational.

In this way, our fear of God restores for us the true understanding of the universe – everything is contingent upon him . . . and when we forget that, we create a vacuum that all of our fears rush into. When I say “fear not”, you might think “but you don’t know what I’m going through”. But when Jesus says “fear not” he also says “I am with you always” – so trust that there’s nothing beyond his control.


So remember . . . it’s alright