Pastor's Pen

Fear and Faith

Posted on: May 28, 2020

I have not yet encountered anyone during this pandemic who is totally without fear. A person who is totally without fear or anxiety is an aberration. We occasionally view folks in these terms: if they aren’t worried, they don’t know what’s going one!

Many Christians calm their fears and anxieties by believing that everything that happens fits into God’s plan for them in some way. Their faith challenge, therefore, is to understand God’s purpose for their individual lives.

Others fear by focusing on facts. I learned recently of a firehouse sign that declared , Facts—Not Fear. Facts alone don’t calm all fears, however. And in the search for facts, we often define subjective perspectives that reflect any number of personal biases and prejudices as “fact.”

The mid-20th century theologian Paul Tillich challenges such presumptions of confidence—that God (or someone) ultimately and always controls everything. Tillich observed that doubt is an essential part of faith. If our faith doesn’t provoke moments of doubt, he believed, we aren’t taking our faith seriously.

In Matthew 14:22, we read the story of Jesus sending his disciples on their way across the Sea of Galilee. En route they encountered strong headwinds and waves that battered their boat about.

“Very early in the morning Jesus came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, ‘It’s a ghost!’ They were so frightened they screamed.

“Just then Jesus spoke to them, ‘Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.’ Peter replied, ‘Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.’ And Jesus said, ‘Come.’

“Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, ‘Lord, rescue me!’

“Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, ‘You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?’ When they got into the boat, the wind settled down.”

COVID-19 is a powerful headwind. It disrupts just about every assumption and expectation we may have held about how our lives would be moving ahead. When we see—or experience—the corona virus, it’s easy to doubt God.

God keeps reaching out to us, however. Jesus grasps hold of us, just as he grabbed hold of Peter. UCC pastor and theologian Bruce G. Epperly reminds us that the solution to our fears “… is found in companionship with God and doing God’s work, concretely responding to the suffering of those around us. Pain is a call to compassion. Loneliness an invitation to relationship. Injustice a call to protest . . . .

“In this crisis moment, God urgently needs us to be images of hope and agents of compassion bringing God’s realm to birth on earth “as it is in heaven”.

The well-being of God’s world will not be accomplished by circling our wagons around me, myself, and mine. If we learn anything at all about ourselves from the pandemic, it needs to be a new awareness of how the whole earth and all who dwell therein are interconnected.

Rather than circling the wagons, we need to expand the circle of God’s love. “God so loved the world, . . .”—not just Bucks County or the Delaware River Valley or the United States.

Be well. Be safe. And every day, may we count our blessings.

—Pastor Fogal

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