Faith and Fear

As near as I can tell, tharseo (take courage) is, in its occurrences in the New Testament, always a dominical imperative. When his disciples are frightened, Jesus exhorts them to courage. When a woman is healed, Christ bids her to courage. When an apostle might be tempted to discouragement, our Lord exhorts him to courage. Where fear enters and siphons off the joy and grace of faith, the Lord bids his friends to be courageous.

The antithesis between faith and fear can be deeply existential, and even paralyzing. The darkness of an imagined future—and for us all futures can only be imagined—impinges itself upon one’s imagination, the imagination gives birth to a multitude of thoughts, and thoughts generate all the variant emotions of fear. That fear then exercises its power over the will, shaping choices and acts, the movement of the soul in response to all these stimuli. And often those choices and actions are a retreat, even a retreat into the paralysis of inaction.

If one looks rationally at this process, which is to say if one were to contemplate this while not under the influence of fear, one can see that there are any number of points along the way in which one may stop this progression. If one consistently exercise his imagination upon the truths of the Gospel and the acts of God, one may well recognize the antithetical object of imagination. Resurrection has a different shape than death. But perhaps the stimulus to the imagination is strong. One may well then apply the opposing thought. The suffering daughter of Israel may say to herself that she is nothing else but an outcast and unclean, but she may also call to her mind that the Suffering Servant will bear all her stripes. And so it goes, in a process of the soul discipline for which I have no expertise to address.

It may be well to note that the longer we entertain the fearful thought, the benighted future, the stifling emotion, the harder is the release from these things obtained. Fear needs nothing more than prolonged attention to root itself most deeply in our heart and mind. The more quickly it is fronted and dealt with, the more easily it may be dismissed.

But while the science of the battle of these thoughts is the expertise of one’s spiritual father, there is, through it all, a very simple act that one may choose, indeed, one must choose, instant by instant. For faith is an act of trust, a personal movement of the will. Contrary to fear, the act of faith responds to this present moment, this now in which is salvation, this God who is here right now with me in this place. One need say or think nothing to oneself but only to reach out to that good God and lover of mankind who is always worthy of our every allegiance. Let the storms rage, let the isolation from our fellow man raise its walls, let our sense of unworthiness and the fear of betrayal wreak all its power on our hearts. We can always, at every moment, reach out to him who walks on the waters and calls to us “Take courage, it is I.”