Monday, April 4, 2011

Between Fear and Faith

When I was 17 I went on backpacking trip in the Adirondack Mountains with my father. We spent five days living in a lean-to and hiking in the woods on an unsuccessful hunt for deer. We cooked over an open fire, washed in the lake and slept with shotguns, in case one of the local residents (black bear) came to visit us during the night.

One evening after dinner my father suggested that we go to an overlook area on the mountain upon which he had camped. He did not say why, he only suggested it. He also brought his gun, but told me I need not bring mine. For some reason I felt fear rising in my heart. Why did he want to leave the safety of the camp? Why could he have a gun and not I? I begin to draw parallels to my own situation and that of Isaac in Gen 22. There Abraham takes his son to a spot on a mountain with the intention of killing him. When the son asks questions, the father provides no clear purpose or answer. Yet the son followed.

As you may have guessed by now, I did in fact survive that day and my father neither inflicted nor intended to cause me any harm. But I began to wonder about that day recently. Why did that thought arise? I had no reason to be suspicious of my father’s intentions. Yet, without warning, it surfaced and caused me to wonder what was about to happen.

I suppose it surfaced because deep down, I did fear my father. Perhaps there is an element of fear in many children in relation to their parents. Their love for their parents may be predicated on their fear of them. But I also think that was the beginning of a turning point for me and the way I viewed and related to my father. I think my confidence in my relationship with him grew on that trip, and I left confident that he did not mean me any harm. Over the next 12 years our relationship grew and I don’t remember ever again feeling the irrational fear that he wanted to harm me. You might say I had faith in him.

Then he died. And now that connection, the relationship that I had seen being nurtured and changing just ended. I felt like just as we were beginning to understand each other, he died. And I was left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all.

Since then, there have been times when I have longed to talk to my father, to ask his advice or just to have one more day with him. I suppose that is why I hold to the hope of resurrection. That someday I will see him again and perhaps then everything will make sense.

I wonder if it works that way with God. For a long time my perception of God and how God acts was based on fear. I did things because I was afraid and did not know nor wanted to find out what would happen when I displeased God. I had plenty of help with nurturing this view of God.

Then I began to study, and learn and reconsider. Eventually I no longer feared God nor worried that God was out to get me. Instead I become more confident of my knowledge about God and grew in my understanding.

Then God died. Not literally of course. But at least the way that I thought I knew God. And I was left trying to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all. There are times that I wish it could be like it was before I knew so much. I wish that I could be so confident, the way I was when I stopped being afraid of God. But one cannot go back so simply.

And so, I live in hope that one day I will experience a resurrection of sorts with my faith and that then, perhaps, everything will make sense. Until then, I keep trying to make sense of it all and hope that God will honor my efforts.


  1. John,

    Thanks so much for sharing this memory and your journey...I think more people could resonate with it than would care to admit so.

    It's a strange irony that it is in following God's command (Go to the land I will show you, when explanations are not forthcoming) that people often come to these seasons of unknowing. If we stayed where answers were easy, we would actually be disobeying the command. So we might take heart in that.

    Your thoughts reminded me of a poem I came across not too long ago, by R. S. Thomas:

    I emerge from the mind’s
    cave into the worse darkness
    outside, where things pass and
    the Lord is none of them.

    I have heard the still small voice
    and it was that of the bacteria
    demolishing my cosmos. I
    have lingered too long on

    this threshold, but where can I go?
    To look back is to lose the soul
    I was leading upwards towards
    the light. To look forward? Ah,

    what balance is needed at
    the edges of an abyss.
    I am alone on the surface
    of a turning planet. What

    to do but, like Michelangelo’s
    Adam, put my hand
    out into unknown space,
    hoping for the reciprocating touch?

    R. S. Thomas, “Threshold,” Poems of R. S. Thomas (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1985), 149-150.

  2. "Until then, I keep trying to make sense of it all and hope that God will honor my efforts."

    Amen. Thanks, John.

  3. Thanks for sharing some of your story. I really appreciate the insights you posted about your not needing to fear (in the negative sense) you father. I often need to be reminded that God is on my doesn't always feel that way. We probably all struggle with trusting God, but at different times and for different reasons.

  4. Journey with Fear and faith is very difficult. And your journey making experience is really great.

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