I grew up learning how faith and fear could be understood as opposing forces in the Bible and in our lives of discipleship. This lesson always turned to the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:22-33, Peter begins to sink when he becomes afraid. This prompts Jesus to ask why Peter had such little faith and why he doubted. I am one who has been inspired by this approach and who has wondered out loud in sermons, bible studies, and meetings if we make decisions out of fear or out of faith, assuming that faith is the courage to push forward resolutely in a course of action even in the face of adversity.
Here and now, many are asking a question of how we practice faith in the midst of shelter-in-place orders. To many, it appears that the decision is “fear-based.” We are afraid to catch COVID-19 or somehow enable someone else to catch it, therefore we must shelter-in-place because of our fear. Within this framework, sheltering-in-place does not feel entirely good or fulfilling. It feels like a surrender. Perhaps a surrender of what is comfortable, what was foundational for our understanding of life or a surrender of the job which provided a paycheck.
We are learning there are no straightforward answers with what will come next and how it will happen. The frustration is mounting. We are sick of the surrender. We yearn for the “normal” we once had. It is all entirely understandable and alright to feel what we feel. Anger. Sadness. Fear.
The only hiccup I can see in the idea that faith and fear are complete opposites is that, when Peter began sinking, he cried out “Lord, save me!” There was an acknowledgement in the power of Jesus even in that moment of fear. Peter still implicitly had a trust expressed in a “knee-jerk” moment of sinking. When the chips were down, Peter was filled with both faith and fear. This leads me to wonder today if faithfulness can be traced to some fears. We may advocate for justice out of a fear for the livelihood of our neighbors and, sometimes, ourselves. We search for meaning in part to avoid meaninglessness. We turn to the cross and resurrection for fear of the power of sin and death. Perhaps fear has a place in motivating where we place our trust.
If we wonder whether or not we are doing what we are doing based in faith or in fear-perhaps it is both. Lutheran Christians are no strangers to the power of paradox. Jesus is really present in the elements of communion, although it is not literal body and blood. The scripture contains both the condemnation of law and salvation of gospel. We are simultaneously sinners and saints, servants to none and servants to all, eternal life is already and not yet, etc. Another paradox may be that a relationship with God involves trust (faith) and fear.
If I am pressed, I hope to make decisions more exclusively out of faith rather than fear. After all, faith is still far more inspiring than fear. I hope to continue sharing time and relationship in an attitude of trust, openness, and vulnerability. At this time, though, in the midst of a health crisis and systematic upheaval, perhaps a fear of catching, spreading, or enabling COVID-19 is a faith-filled response. Perhaps our fear is opening up space for our crying out to something beyond ourselves, our power, and our control.
Lord, save us.