Fear and Faith
Fear – we’re no strangers to fear. Fear is a normal human emotion; one that God has given to us to alert us of danger; it protects us from anything or anyone wanting to harm us.
Who hasn’t felt some kind of fear in these days of the COVID pandemic? You meet friends, fear immediately puts you in a dilemma. Should you greet them the normal way with hugs and handshakes or stand back, smile and maybe elbow bump? Who makes the decision what to do? During that moment fear creates some anxiety and stress because COVID lurks in the background.
Think of what causes you to be afraid, to be anxious, to worry?
You may exercise every day because you fear that one day you won’t be able to bend down and tie your shoelaces. You are anxious over a member of your family who seems to have lost his/her faith, or who is facing health problems, or whose marriage is on the rocks. You are fearful of being alone; afraid of what will happen when you lose the person closest to you. You are about to have the COVID19 vaccination, but you see on TV reports that a small number of people have bad reactions. You are afraid that you might be one who has a severe reaction.
Fear. You know what fills your heart with fear. Fear can lead to feeling helpless – you don’t know what to do – you feel hopeless there’s nothing you can do to change the situation. That makes you even more afraid and stressed.
In Mark 5:21-43 we meet two people who are really afraid and stressed. Both of these people come from the opposite ends of society – one is a man, a leader, a big shot at the synagogue who is in good standing in the community – the other has no place in the community, she is a woman, an outcast, poor, rejected, regarded as unclean. Both come to Jesus.
We don’t know the name of the woman. She was in the crowd surrounding Jesus. She suffered from bleeding. You might think that’s nothing to worry about but in a society that had strict rules about these things (see Lev 15), no-one was to go near her or touch anything she touched or allow her to touch anyone else. She was penniless because she had spent all she had on doctors who only made her bleeding worse. She was an exile, a nobody. She was afraid of everyone.
She suffered tremendous loneliness, loss and grief for 12 long years. In some kind of hopeful way, believing that Jesus could help, all she wanted to do was to touch his coat. Maybe her understanding was a bit ignorant and superstitious, but no-one can take away the fact that she confidently believed, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well” (Mark 5:28).
What happened next was unexpected. Yes, she was healed, but Jesus surprisingly asked – surprising because there were lots of people crowded around him, “Who touched me”.
Fearfully she came forward. She, an outcast and unclean person, had touched a rabbi and made him unclean. Now she was exposed. She was afraid of the shame that would follow. Instead of shaming her, he commends her faith. Faith is faith no matter how small, and that faith brings results – peace. He said, “Daughter (he calls her ‘daughter’ to indicate that she is no longer an object to be despised, a nobody, but a person to be loved), daughter, your faith (that has trusted me to heal you) has made you well; go in peace, (no longer be afraid) and be healed of your disease (and enjoy our life)” (Mark 5:34).
The other person we hear about is Jairus. In desperation and fear he falls at the feet of Jesus. He might be a big shot at the synagogue but his fear for his daughter won’t stop him from humiliating himself and falling on his knees in the dirt in front of this highly unorthodox rabbi begging not once but repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live” (Mark 5:23). Kneeling before Jesus is a man who truly believes Jesus can make his daughter well again.
On the way Jairus hears that his daughter had died. That news is the worst news a father can hear and certainly affected Jairus deeply. Jesus encourages him saying, “Do not give way to fear, only go on believing” i.e., keep on trusting me. Your fear will give way to peace. His daughter was raised to life.
“Do not give way to fear, only go on believing”, this is what Jesus says to each of us when we are faced with those things that fill us with fear and uncertainty, that shatter our confidence and cause us anxiety and stress. The world of Jairus and the bleeding woman were in turmoil and yet Jesus encouraged them in their faith, to trust him and his ability to help them in their time of need, to have confidence in his love and compassion, to believe that with him anything is possible even bring peace and joy where there is misery and sadness.
Likewise he says to us, “Stop being afraid! Just keep on believing!”
But what if you are a person who says, “I want to stop being afraid, but fear still grips my heart. I still worry. I still get anxious. I drive people crazy talking about my worries.”
That’s probably most of us. It’s what we do with our fear that matters. In the face of our fear Jesus encourages us to keep on believing that God is greater than anything that can cause us to be fearful. That thought may not instantly stop us from worrying but as you continue to dwell on the promises of God you will find that Jesus’ words, “Do not give way to fear, only go on believing” will sink in. Faith will grasp the love and compassion of Jesus and will wait with eagerness for his response. Faith will grasp the truth that God promises, “I will never forget you. … I have written your name on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15,16 GNB).
Maybe these two healing miracles have something to say about what happens in our lives. We worry, we pray, we worry some more, and nothing seems to happen. Remember the bleeding woman had her affliction for 12 years. For 12 years she had been poked at by doctors, rejected by the community, regarded as unclean, spiritually corrupt, as low as a human could get. It took 12 years before she received healing. This wasn’t what she had planned for her life. Her fear of where life was leading could have led her to give up.
Jairus begged for healing for his sick daughter but when Jesus is delayed by the bleeding woman, Jairus must have been hopping from one leg to the other with anxiety. During this delay the little girl died. The fear and frustration the delay caused, the finality of death and the fear of emptiness and loss could have been a good reason for Jairus to despair and give up, but Jesus simply encouraged, “Do not give way to fear, only go on believing”.
We have our idea of the way things ought to go and our ideas of when and how things ought to turn out. Maybe on a timeline that’s longer than we expect. Healing that was different to what we thought we needed; healing that’s not what we wanted or how we wanted. Our idea of healing may not necessarily be God’s way. Jesus says to us, “Don’t be afraid. Keep on believing”.
Even when everything seems dark and impossible keep on believing that there is nothing that is outside of God’s control. He doesn’t forget those whom he loves. That was expressed so powerfully in today’s psalm – Psalm 130 – where the writer cries out to God in his troubles and waits for God to answer. He trusts God’s word putting his hope in the Lord and there he finds comfort in God’s never-ending love. He says, Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love.
Our faith, our hope is linked to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus wanted the bleeding woman to confront him and not simply to hide in the background. He wanted her to meet him face to face, to have a relationship with her, to be able to call her “daughter”, to make certain she knew that she wasn’t a nobody but a dearly loved child of God who was able to live a happy and joy-filled life.
Today, the words of Jesus ring in ears. When it seems that our troubles are taking over and controlling our lives he reminds us, “Do not give way to fear, only go on believing”. Keep on believing, even pray, ‘I believe help me in my unbelief’, that Jesus’ love for you is rock solid. He doesn’t stand back and watch. Reach out in faith and trust that love. And he will give you his peace, his joy even if there is plenty to scare you. Peace and joy knowing that you are safe in the arms of the Almighty and nothing can separate you from him and his love for you even if the world is raging around you. It is also highly likely you will find the opportunity to share that peace with those who are fearful. Let me finish with this little story that about summarises faith in the face fear.
Hanns Lilje was a pastor in the Lutheran Church in Germany. After Hitler came to power, Lilje worked in a cooperation with others to oppose Hitler’s policies. In 1944, Lilje was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. Lilje writes about that first night in prison, “Then fear and panic began to creep over me, like an evil beast creeping out of its den. I began to see myself and my position very clearly.” The next morning was Sunday and it was also his forty-fifth birthday. Lilje wrote, “Suddenly, from a window in another wing, I heard someone whistling the first line of a familiar hymn. I was electrified, sprang to the window, and as soon as my unknown companion ceased whistling, I answered with the chorale, ‘Oh for a thousand tongues to sing. . . .’”. Hanns Lilje was able to enjoy the peace of God in the darkest situation. He experienced what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Do not give way to fear, only go on believing”.
Living Without Fear – Don Gossett
How Great is our God – Louie Giglio
Vince Gerhardy Blog
Fighting Fear with Faith – Denise George
Fear to Courage – Kim Vastine
Faith not Fear – Christine Keller