In our series on ‘Questions’, looking at questions God asks us, we looked at the question Jesus asked His disciples after He had calmed the storm on the lake (see Matt 8:33-37, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25) Although phrased slightly differently in each gospel, the question linked faith and fear inextricably: Where is your faith?’ (Luke 8:25), ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ (Matt 8:26) and “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
Faith and fear could be said to be opposites. Faith is that assurance that God is in control and that we don’t have to see to believe; Heb 11:1 defines faith in this way: ‘faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’ (Heb 11:1) J. B. Phillips translates this verse, ‘faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for, it means being certain of things we cannot see.’ The Message version says that faith ‘is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.’ The Bible reminds us that without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Heb 11:6) and in Hebrews 11, it takes us through a litany of people who showed us what faith looks like. These people were not perfect; they often got things wrong. Even the ‘great heroes’ of the Bible like Abraham and Moses made mistakes: Abraham did not wait for God’s timing, but slept with his wife’s servant to try to hurry things along so that he could have the heir he longed for; Moses committed murder to try to sort out problems his own way. The common theme for all these heroes is that they lived by faith rather than by sight, however.
Fear came into the world when sin came (see Gen 3:10). Before sin, there was no fear. There was no need for fear. Fear came as the consequence of disobedience, and as a result, mankind has been prone to fear, fearing punishment, condemnation and judgment. Many of us rationalise fear and accept fear as the consequence of living in a fallen world. We may even feel the disciples were right to be afraid in a storm that placed them in danger. But Jesusoffers us an alternative way to live, a way without fear, the way of faith and confidence in God. He’s asleep on a cushion. (Mark 4:38) He’s not panicking. He’s not thinking about drowning. He’s not shouting and ranting and in a state. He’s asleep. And even when He’s woken up and sees the situation, He doesn’t join in the panic and hysteria of the disciples. He simply gets up, rebukes the wind, speaks stillness into the waves and then proceeds to dig deeper into the disciples’ hearts. ‘Why are you so afraid?’ He asks.
‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ In linking faith and fear, in showing them that faith is not compatible with fear, they were reminded that actually, they had had no reason to fear. Jesus was with them. He might have been sleeping, but He had not abandoned them. Had He not said to them, “Let us go over to the other side of the lake.” (Luke 8:22, Mark 4:35) Why, therefore, should they have doubted that they would reach that destination safely? Did they not realise who Jesus was? The One who made the entire universe was not going to be swamped and killed by a few waves. Jesus was still in control. In asking this question, Jesus is effectively saying, ‘why are you living like the rest of the world, fearful, doubting, uncertain and insecure? You are my followers. You belong to me. Where, then, is your faith?’ This is a question that comes to us all today with piercing force. We have the opportunity to choose faith over fear. What will we do?