Overcoming Our Greatest Fear
If we allow them, our fears can become huge obstacles that stifle a healthy spiritual life. One of the great fears that many Christians wrestle with is named in Mark 4:38. It’s the story of the disciples on the
of Galilee in a storm, fearing for their lives. Jesus is on board,
sound asleep. They wake him, terrified: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
In some of the Hebrew creation stories the raging sea often stood for the powers of chaos opposed to the creative will of God. The disciples are up against chaotic forces as they struggle to make it to the other side of the
Sea of Galilee.
We live in a world where all sorts of chaotic things can happen to us and the people we love. We live in a world of natural disasters, of hurricanes, tsunamis, and floods. We live in a world of uncertainty and unpredictability, where there is still much evil. We live in a world of war, a world filled with violence—with terrorist attacks, drone strikes, and where inexplicable acts of human cruelty are committed. We rightfully fear such perils and evils, but perhaps what we fear even more is God’s silence.
“Don’t you care, God, that we are about to drown?” What if God doesn’t care? What if God is apathetic or indifferent to our cries of distress? What if? It doesn’t help to deny this fear, for denying it or ignoring it or suppressing it just makes it more terrifying.
Mark’s Gospel has a response to this question. It’s not an answer and yet it is an answer. Jesus tells his disciples on three occasions that he is going to be rejected, humiliated, suffer, and be killed. At
the night of his arrest, he prayed to his Abba
that the cup of suffering would pass from him, but it was not to be.
I don’t think it was the anticipation of physical suffering that distressed Jesus so much, as it was the burden of God he was bearing. Jesus, I believe, was suffering with our suffering world as only one in mystical union with God can suffer. Jesus feels the pain of God: To give oneself totally and unconditionally to your children and to be dismissed outright. To love so completely and to have that love trampled underfoot. That is the burden of God, and Jesus who is at one with God, immersed in God’s Spirit, must bear it.
On the cross, Jesus experienced both the suffering of God and the suffering of humanity. On the divine side, Jesus experienced the suffering of the Compassionate Abba in the pain of being forsaken by those God loves with an eternal love. On the human side, Jesus experienced the pain of feeling forsaken by God. In Mark’s passion narrative, Jesus, quoting the Psalmist, cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I don’t believe for one moment that Jesus was actually forsaken, but Jesus certainly felt forsaken.
The cross is the response of the Gospels to the question, “Does God care?” God is not, as a popular song once expressed, watching us from a distance. God is as close as the air we breathe. When the creation groans in travail, God groans. God is one with us in our travail.
God is with us and for us, no matter how turbulent the storm that threatens to sink our boat—our reputation, marriage, physical health, spirituality, career, even our very lives or the lives of our loved ones. The living Christ is with us on the boat that is being rocked by waves that could any moment overturn our vessel and leave us floundering about in a storm tossed sea. But if we do capsize, Christ enters into the water with us; he’s not going to be walking on top of it.
If we can be still for a few moments and tune our spirits toward the Spirit of Christ, we can hear the Spirit say, “Don’t be seized by panic, don’t let fear immobilize and suffocate your spirit; only trust.”