Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fear vs. Faith

Over the past month, I've come to learn that sin is not the only thing that can drive a wedge between God and me. I just wikied a summary of the cardinal sins, and I find it absolutely fails to describe some of the subtleties I've observed (and committed) over the years, so my next post will be the first in a non-consecutive series about my thoughts on this issue. First, I'd like to address one of the sins that didn't make the list, and I consider it a sin because it really encapsulates the extreme opposite of faith in God: fear.

It's interesting to me that I once held to the twisted belief that God was merciless in the Old Testament, especially with regards to the death penalty. I understand the logic in wanting to keep gratuitous sin away from impressionable people, especially where people seem to glean pleasure in many forms of sin. What I've come to realize, however, is that it's very easy to examine this issue as a sweeping theory, but much more difficult to point a finger at God when there's a face attached to it. From what I've read over the past few weeks, the easiest way to build a case against God's mercy would be to cite the instances of Babel, Sodom, and Gomorrah. Basic human empathy would, I hope, suggest that laying waste to entire cities would be indicative of wrath, not justice. As I'm gradually learning (and accepting, to my surprise), we are not meant to know everything. In all the abovementioned, we are never properly told what the inhabitants of these places have committed and to what degree, but it's interesting to note that God seemingly saves the ones who are deserving, specifically Lot and his family. Having learned what I know, I must give God the benefit of the doubt and assume that He would have kept his promise to Abraham by not destroying the city at all if there were ample people worth saving, and, since He did save the few that were worthy of His mercy, I also have to assume that had any more been present, they too would have been led outside the walls.

So how does fear factor into this, and precisely what is it? As for Lot, who identified the angels God sent to rescue him and his immediate family, he wanted to back out at the last minute. He had doubts about the legitimacy of the prophecy that clearly predicted the destruction of these hubs:

Genesis 19: 14-6 "And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get ye out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law. And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city."

These men that led him out were not just ordinary men; they were judges sent by God to canvass the city. The night before, as described in the scripture, two of them appeared at Lot's dwelling to warn him, as they saw in him the presence of the Lord. A little later, the third one showed up, followed by men of the city, who were intent on beating the angels and anyone who aided them. Now, not only do I not want to doubt Lot's faith in God, but I would think it only reinforced after seeing the judges cast a blindness upon the aggressors so they couldn't even follow through with their sinister desires. In spite of this, and the many miracles to which Lot had been privvy, he feared the implications of uprooting his family. He also retreated into himself when faced with his sons in law, as they thought him quite foolish for even suggesting it.

Again, what is fear? For an instinct that seems to walk hand-in-hand with doubt, it makes little sense given the above circumstances. The same could be said of those who doubted Christ, and, if you consider some of the miracles Christ performed, it's pretty ludicrous to assume He was anyone but the Son of God. Jeff McDowell makes a very explicit point in noting that, while many false prophets have stumbled from the woodwork over the course of history, Christ is not only one of few (if not the only one) who calls Himself God's only Son, but He actually demonstrates it with acts and miracles that couldn't be attributed to anything less. As I keep reading, God is very liberal with demonstrations of His own power and love throughout the Old Testament. So, why is it, then, that after witnessing such impossibilities, anyone could be inclined to doubt? The only answer I can come up with is based on my own situation. It has everything to do with focus.

See, if I'm to follow Christ, and I truly mean to do so, there are times when He will grant me blessings and times when He will ask me to perform things on His behalf. Some are easier than others, and I've yet to come across an example where I disobeyed and suffered for it. In fact, I recently noticed some ethical conflicts at work, which, although they weren't on my shoulders, didn't change the fact that I was contributing to an enterprise that wasn't always conducting itself in honourable terms. Against my own will, I made it clear that I could no longer continue as things were, and, beyond that, even went as far as to insist that these situations be rectified in order for me to hand over some work I was sitting on. None of this was my doing, not because I disagree with God's assessment of the situation, but I've become far too dependant on having a paycheque, not to mention a reference for the future. Earlier today, I found out that balance is on the fast track to being restored. The funny thing is, aside from the initial approach I took, I barely had to do anything. As my mentor would say, I took a leap and a net appeared to catch me.

But then, there are other challenges where I have let fear consume me, and, as I've come to realize, it had nothing to do with the situation. I was never in any danger, and I didn't stand to actually lose anything. What I did, instead, was focus on my own weaknesses as a person instead of the endless strength and support I have from God. What I was doing was trying to intellectualize things that were not for me to consider, and that is very, very dangerous. I even had a moment where I asked God to delegate certain obligations to those of stronger faith, stronger will, it didn't matter. All I knew was that I alone could not possibly accomplish some of the things being asked of me, because I'm just that vulnerable right now. It was as if God had given me a shield to use in the proverbial battle that is life, and instead of using it to guard against evil, I was trying to guard against the will I handed over to God. I wanted it back, because I was focussed on internal struggles, which, as we all know, should have been handed over to God in the first place. But it's hard to let go of these things, and I tried to go it alone, and it failed. Quite poetically, actually. If nothing else, there should be great comfort in knowing that God always comes back.

Even some of God's most loved children have done exactly as I did. Abraham, when entering a new kingdom, instructed his wife Sarah to say she was his sister, so the men of these countries wouldn't kill him to claim her. Isaac did the same. Just tonight, I read about Jacob's conflict with his brother Esau, his attempts to spoonfeed gifts to him to defuse his anger. None of these could be construed as acts of faith, and none of them are worthy of praise. But the funny thing about it all: these men, just as the Bible says, did spread their seeds across the globe. God doesn't expect me to be perfect; He expects me to be honest. We all have insecurities that will be used against us, but, as I can truly attest, there's a light at the end of it all.

Fear has nothing to do with what's asked of us. It also has nothing to do with any comparison we could draw between our inherent abilities and the situations in which we find ourselves. Fear is entirely introspective; it's the way we try to grab the sword from God's grip and swing it for ourselves. If I've learned nothing else over my 27 years, it's that, even when I do land a blow, it's only coincidental. God, on the other hand, is incapable of missing.


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