Why Are We Afraid?
You may be down to your last paycheck, solution, or thimble of faith. Each sunrise seems to bring fresh reasons for fear. They're talking layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flare-ups in the Middle East, turnovers at headquarters, downturns in the housing market, upswings in global warming, breakouts of terrorist cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A new strain of flu is crossing the border.
Fear, it seems, has taken a 100-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversized and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness. Happiness complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can you be happy and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No.
Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.
Wouldn't it be great to walk out?
Good Reason to Fear?
Imagine your life wholly untouched by angst. What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to threats? If you could hover a fear magnet over your heart and extract every last shaving of dread, insecurity, and doubt, what would remain? Envision a day, just one day, absent the dread of failure, rejection, and calamity. Can you imagine a life with no fear? This is the possibility behind Jesus' question: "Why are you afraid?" (Matthew 8:26).
At first blush we wonder if Jesus is serious. He may be kidding. Teasing. Pulling a quick one. Kind of like one swimmer asking another, "Why are you wet?"
But Jesus doesn't smile. He's earnest. So are the men to whom he asks the question. A storm has turned their Galilean dinner cruise into a white-knuckled plunge. Here is how one of them remembered the trip: "Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat" (Matthew 8:23-24).
These are Matthew's words. He remembered well the pouncing tempest and bouncing boat and was careful in his terminology. He chose the word seismos—a quake, a trembling eruption of sea and sky. The term still occupies a spot in our vernacular. A seismologist studies earthquakes, a seismograph measures them, and Matthew, along with a crew of recent recruits, felt a seismos that shook them to the core. He used the word on only two other occasions: once at Jesus' death when Calvary shook (Matthew 27:51-54) and again at Jesus' resurrection when the graveyard tremored (28:2). Apparently, the stilled storm shares equal billing in the trilogy of Jesus' great shake-ups: defeating sin on the cross, death at the tomb, and here silencing fear on the sea.