Fear and Assurance

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. . . . And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. . . . By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going. . . . By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old–and Sarah herself was barren–because he considered him faithful who had promised. . . . By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promise was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendents shall be named after you.’ He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the deat–and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.(Hebrews 12.1-3, 6, 8, 11, 17-19)

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:13b-19)

Whether petitioning the Lord for our own requests, interceding for others, or engaging in other forms of prayer, I cannot see how one can escape the dynamic of assurance and fear. It may seem too stark to put the dynamic in quite such extremes. After all, if we lack assurance, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are gripped with some dark nameless fear that our request will not be answered. Oughtn’t the dynamic be between assurance and doubt? I don’t think so. For if we pray at all, we are expressing some level of faith. And as St. James says in his letter, even the demons have faith, but their lack of assurance is not predicated so much on doubt as on fear, for they do not love.

Or, rather, to say it another way, I do not think the dynamic is between faith and assurance on the one hand and doubt and hopelessness on the other. Faith and fear are not opposites, I do not think. But love and fear are. And if one does not have assurance, it may not be due to a lack of faith per se, so much as a lack of love (or the lack of a conviction that one is loved).

Too often, though I think I understand why, faith is painted in intellectual terms (one believes this or that set of intellectual concepts). But faith is not mere intellectual commitment (see on the demons’ belief referred to above). Rather faith is a matter of relationship, of trust, and that takes love. And love is personal, and thus polyfaceted.

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