The Resonance Between Faith and Fear

The phenomenon of resonance fascinates me. Step on a piano’s sustain pedal, strike a low A and–if the piano is in tune–the A an octave higher will vibrate in symphony with the first. So will the E above that. And another A, and then a C sharp. Like a pebble dropped in a placid lake, the sound reverberates outward, up and down the scale, soliciting a response from surrounding notes. Even more astonishing, these higher notes are actually within the original note–hidden inside as shorter ratios and lengths. And when their deeper relative sounds into existence, they too are summoned into the world.

Built into the very fabric of the universe, into the atomic nature of matter and harmonics and relationality, is the capacity for one thing to invite another into existence. 

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Every now and then a story about Jesus drops into my placid mind, reverberating me out of my slumber, usually inviting into existence both hope and doubt, faith and fear.

Like the story of the father with the “demon-possessed son” in Mark 9. I can picture the man standing before Jesus, wild-eyed and desperate, rambling a little and beside himself from the desperate fear that–yet again–the healing he’d hoped to find for his son at the feet of yet another healer might prove futile. “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us,” he mumbles at last. And the words catch in his throat.

The story from Mark reminds me of a man I know–a pastor, in fact–whose young daughter has spent most of her short life battling a brutal, gnawing cancer. The pastor and his wife have done everything they know to do–chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, even traveling halfway around the world in search of yet another healer with cutting-edge, state-of-the-art experimental treatments. They have tens of thousands of people pulling for them, praying and fasting for them, raising money for them.

But still the cancer claws.

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Just last week my pastor–Joy–led the congregation full force into chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, and invited us to imagine ourselves inside that dusty scene: the epileptic boy just there on the street, foaming at the mouth, thrashing and kicking up a cloud of dust; the father pulling his hair out beside Jesus; the confused and embarrassed disciples (why hadn’t they been able to heal the boy?); the hungry crowds gawking over one another’s shoulders to see what would happen next.

And there, in that place, Joy asked us to name the spaces in our own lives where faith and fear mingle and resonate. She invited us to cry out to Him with words desperate as that father’s, desperate as that pastor’s, and name our own flickering faiths, our own gnawing fears.

It took a while to get going, of course. When are people ever comfortable privately acknowledging, much less publicly naming their weaknesses? But then someone cried out:

I believe you have someone for me to love, Lord. But I fear I will spend my life alone. 

A stifled sob followed a moment later from the one who spoke–loneliness made audible. I was dumbstruck. We all were. No longer was Mark 9 an ancient, obsolete story about someone else, somewhere else, speaking a different language, living in a different culture, resident of a different world. This is our story too.

So Joy invited us to enter into our own story, and respond:

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

The room fell silent again, but not for long.

I believe you have a home for me Lord. But I fear I will always be homeless.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I believe you are bringing peace into our world, Lord. But I fear I’ll lose still more of my family to war.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I believe you can heal my cancer, Lord. But I fear I might die.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

I was in tears at this point, overwhelmed by my fellow congregants’ vulnerability and honesty. In tears with my own fears roiling inside me. I believe The Gospel. Yes. Of course. But I have so many questions. And and so many doubts, too.

Had I the breath in that moment (or the courage?) I wonder which of my legion uncertainties I might have voiced:

I believe you provide, Lord. But I fear there won’t be enough to meet our needs.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

I believe You exist, Lord. But I fear religion is just a beautiful story we tell ourselves in order to feel less vulnerable, less alone.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief.

I believe in the Resurrection, Lord. But I fear it might be merely a myth.

We believe, Lord. Help our unbelief. 

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When I was a child, I thought like a child: faith and fear were categorically different–they didn’t mix any more than fire and water. Thus (I reasoned) if only I believed hard enough, if only I had enough faith, then I wouldn’t have anything to fear.

But now that I am older, I can’t help wondering about the relationship between faith and fear. It seems to me they are much more closely related than my childish ways of thinking could allow. When I say I believe something, is not the fear that I believe wrongly close at hand? When I fear what I believe is untrue, is not the fear in step with the hope that the belief just might be true?

What if, like notes on a scale, faith and fear are resonant? What if they are woven together in some mysterious, mystical, inexplicable way–integrated into the very fabric of human existence? What if the existence of one actually invites the other into the world?

And, most astonishing of all, what if God means for it to be that way?

If it is so, it seems there is only one response, only one refrain broad and deep enough to uphold a lifetime of this oscillation, this companionship, this symphony, this resonance:

I believe, Lord. Help Thou my Unbelief!

 

Photo Credit: Stuart Williams via Compfight

  • Jenna

    Great post, thanks for sharing that. I guess my only hesitancy to accepting that faith and fear are meant to co-exist is found in 2 Timothy 1:7, For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. I think that in the presence of our fear, our faith can become more intimate as chose to walk in our faith and not dwell in our fear, but I think that of all the things God could use to grow our faith, his first choice wouldn’t be fear. He desires us to have a sound mind, and I don’t see how fear helps foster that environment. I’m also well aware that I could be totally wrong, so feel free to pick apart what I just said. Thanks for the post!

    • mikeyankoski

      Hi Jenna. Thanks for reading and for your question, and for the reference to 2 Timothy. Perhaps my word choice when I said “What if God MEANS for it to be that way” was too strong. Maybe “allows” or “permits” would be better? Hmm…

      I don’t know about you, but I do find that I oscillate between faith and doubt, faith and fear. Sometimes I’m walking in that spirit of “power, love and of a sound mind” and sometimes I’m just–quite honestly–not. I worry, I fear, I doubt: can God really bring peace amidst all our seemingly endless wars? What about the thousands of kids who die every day of preventable things, like lack of clean water, lack of adequate nutrition, malaria, etc. Is the Kingdom of God really coming?

      We could also look at 1st John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out fear.” And I believe that is true, and yet I don’t experience it to be fully true quite yet. Someday, I hope that yes, God’s perfect love will cast out all fear. But I–for one, at least–am certainly not there yet. Maybe this is what the theologians mean by the “already but not yet” of God’s Kingdom: Christ has died, Christ is Risen, but Christ has not yet come again…

      I find myself believing (and doubting) that God is somehow at work in BOTH our faith AND our fears/doubts to draw us close. Someone once said that faith and doubt were like the two “legs” of our belief in God–only by leaning on both, in alternating periods, do we move forward.

      I wonder… I hope…

      • Jenna

        Yeah I definitely relate with what you’re saying. I think as far as the whether the Kingdom of God is really coming, or really present now, it’s as present as our lives allow it to be. I’ve been studying the Beatitudes and how by incorporating them (and God’s commands in general) into our daily lives we either expose (reveal) the Kingdom or hide the Kingdom. I agree that the Kingdom has a “not yet” factor but I think that God has given us the ability to expose certain aspects of the Kingdom here on earth, and I think that relates to the things you mentioned such as kids dying of preventable things etc. If we truly grasp our purpose and are willing to “give til it hurts” we can see improvement on these issues, and with every small victory, I believe that the Kingdom of God is being revealed.

        As far as perfect love casting out fear, I’d agree with what you’re saying also. I think part of it is that in our human nature, perfect love is such a foreign concept. I believe that it is possible for us to come to a point of understanding that we could experience God’s perfect love enough to cast out all fear, but our doubt and fear and lack of understanding (as everywhere else we look love is far from perfect) prevents us from accepting that such a love can actually be experienced, now.

        I’m thankful that in the midst of our doubt and fear, God is faithful.

        • mikeyankoski

          Hi Jenna–I agree with you. And amen! to God’s faithfulness regardless and in the midst of our ongoing doubts and fears.

          That phrase from 1 John, “perfect love,” is interesting, especially because the Greek word which is translated into English as “perfect” is “telos,” which suggests something being complete, fulfilled, mature, etc. It’s like the author is saying “when love is finally all that it was created to be, THEN all fear will be cast out.”

          It’s what we’re both saying: when the Kingdom of God has finally come in the full, when we’ve all been redeemed and remade so as to live fully in the life and light of that Kingdom, then we shall finally be what we were created to be. Fear and doubt will be cast out, and as Julian of Norwich put it “all shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be most well.”

          Hasten that day, Lord!

  • rP

    thank you Mike! When you explain the tension between faith and fear in musical terms it all starts making sense.

    • mikeyankoski

      Hi rP–Thanks for reading. And, I’m glad that you found that analogy helpful. It clarified some things for me too. Please note the helpful things Jenna pointed out below.

      Grace and Peace to you.