Instinctive? Maybe. Pervasive? Absolutely! Primal fears have plagued humanity for as long as we have told stories and laid awake at night… afraid!
As long as children have been tucked into beds, fear has been a topic of conversation. Do you remember what you made you afraid at night? Was it…
The strange house noises?
The prospect of another night of nightmares?
The uncertainty that goes with being in a room alone?
The last scary TV show you remembered before going to bed?
Many things can make us afraid when we are children. Some of us even liked being a little afraid. I remember going to a great aunt’s house. She was old and wore that caked on powder on her face. She had a screechy voice that sounded like the witch on “The Wizard of Oz” and she lived in an old mansion. The creaky old house was full of rooms. Some were dustier and smelled mustier than others. Then there was the attic! While the attic was full of all sorts of old treasures, there were cobwebs, creaky boards, dust, strange shows and little light. It was spooky, and we loved it!
As we got a little older and were no longer “little kids,” we didn’t like to admit that we were afraid. Sometimes, however, when all the lights were off and we couldn’t sleep, fear would settle into us like a cold fog that seems to penetrate to our bones. “What was that?” we’d think as we thought we heard something rustle under the bed. “Oh my, didn’t I close the closet door before I went to bed?” we’d debate with ourselves trying to remember. We could imagine someone reaching a hand out from under our bed to grab us. We feared that someone could sneak up on us from the darkness of the closet and put a hand over our mouth before we could cry out in terror. So, we’d pull the covers up over us and pray that we could go to sleep before they got us so we wouldn’t feel it or know when they got us.
But, those are childhood fears. What about now as a “grown-up”? What makes you afraid as an adult? What are your worst fears? Heights? Spiders? The dark? Cemeteries?
Or what about the bigger fears, the ones we don’t let surface in our hearts for fear they might come true? Things like…
Will I ever find a good job… meaningful job… any job?
Will I be left all alone in my declining years?
Are the best years of my life now over?
Will my marriage survive?
Will my kids, or spouse, or parents, ever believe?
Is what I believe possibly untrue?
What if my secret sins or my past sins become known?
Am I strong enough to endure what I am about to face?
Oh yes, there are many things we fear as adults, too many, in fact, to try to list them all!
And of course, there is the nagging fear many of us have but are afraid to ask in public: Does Jesus make any difference at all as I face my worst fears coming true?
When Mark put together his gospel story of Jesus, he wanted to make sure to answer that last question and the question about our biggest fears as mortal flesh. For as long as stories have been told, story tellers have told about four primal fears. In the following order, Mark shares four events in Jesus’ life where he dealt with these primal fears:
- Deep (Mark 4:35-41)
Fear of the oceans, waters, floods, and storms that bring them. These are powers behind natural disasters that remind us as humans just how small and vulnerable we are to powers we cannot control.
- Demonic (Mark 5:1-20):
Fear of spirits, ghosts, and demons along with any addiction that holds us captive by a power we cannot quite see, but know has us in its grip.
- Disease (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43):
Fear of diseases that can strip our dignity, purpose, and achievements and leave us vulnerable, helpless, and unable to take care of ourselves.
- Death (Mark 5:24-34:
Fear of death, the ultimate future that each of us must face and that holds us all captive. If we don’t have an answer for death, then we have no real answer to life.
In each of these stories — involving his closest followers caught in a dangerous storm threatening their lives; a man who is uncontrollable by others while damaging himself, shrieking, and living unclothed among the tombs; a father who is facing his worst nightmare, the death of a child; and, a woman who is an outcast who has an incurable disease that isolates her from human contact — Jesus reminds us that he has power over our primal fears.
For a man living a sub-human existence and controlled by demonic powers, Jesus has the power with just a word to restore sanity and wholeness. He has power over the Demonic.
For a woman isolated and alone, Jesus has the power over Disease, even an incurable disease.
For a father whose daughter is very sick and eventually dies, Jesus brings life, reunion, and return to normalcy. Jesus has power even over Death.
Notice that Jesus makes three similar moves in each of these events:
- Jesus is present. He joins each of the people in their perilous times of need.
Jesus rouses from his sleep, is fully present with his disciples in the storm, and does what they needed to be safe (Mark 4:39).
Jesus leaves the boat, comes to shore, and speaks directly to a man possessed by many demons (Mark 5:1-9).
Jesus goes with the father to his home and goes to the room where his sick, but now deceased, daughter lies (Mark 5:21-24, 38-40)
- Jesus helps personally. He is not distant. He is not trying to prove himself to others. He personally cares for the involved people.
Jesus lovingly confronts his disciples about their fear and their lack of faith (Mark 4:40).
Jesus asks the man his name, delivers him, and welcomes the man to his side (Mark 5:9-15).
Jesus refuses to let the woman simply touch his garment anonymously; he makes sure the woman is recognized and personally affirmed for her faith (Mark 5:30-34).
Jesus takes only his inner three disciples and then puts everyone out of the house so that he can minister to the father, mother, and dead little girl personally — he took her by the hand and spoke to her personally as he raised her from the dead (Mark 5:41-42)
- Jesus speaks directly to each based on the need for their future. Jesus’ words help them move to the next stage of living fully in his grace.
Jesus lets them contemplate his identity as they recognize that Jesus was able to do what only God can do, calm a storm with a command (Mark 4:41; cf. Psalm 107:24-32).
Jesus does not let the man accompany him but sends him out to share with his friends and family what the Lord had done for him and shown mercy to him (Mark 5:18-21).
Jesus not only affirms the woman’s faith, he also pronounces her healed and directs her to enter the full life of God’s blessing, free of her past suffering and uncleanness (Mark 5:34).
Jesus asks that they get this little girl something to eat and ordered that they not tell others about what had happened in this private moment (Mark 5:43).
All of this is great for those Jesus physically served, but what about us? What are we to think when the storm still brings us destruction? What are we to do when those we love are held in Satan’s grip by addiction or powers? What are we to feel when our disease, or the disease of someone we love, is not cured? What are we to do with our grief when our child, or a child of someone we love, is not saved from death?
We’ve prayed, fasted, begged, and didn’t get our miracle. Our prayers feel unanswered, or worse, ignored? Are we left to pull the covers back up over our heads and hide until our worst fears go away?
Our reality can make Jesus’ love and grace seem like something from long ago and far away.
Most of us have prayed, fasted, and begged and didn’t get our miracle over tragedies that sure seem to be tied to one of these four fears. So, how does Jesus help us in our fears, or worse, when our fears become a reality, and it feels as if our prayers are unanswered, or worse, ignored? Are we left to pull the covers back up over our heads and hide until our worst fears go away?
We remember that Jesus is present with us in the hurt. He cares for us and cares about our fears, hurts, isolation, and grief. He knows our struggles not just because he is God and knows all things, but also because he has been there and because he has been there, we can go to him for grace to help us in our times of need (Hebrews 2:14-18; Hebrews 4:14-16).
We recognize that while we live in a broken world filled with capricious circumstances and evil people, Jesus knows us personally and feels the burden of our pain. He cares about us and wants something better for us. We trust in the promise that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us in Jesus (Romans 8:32-39).
We also realize that while we may not get full deliverance on this side of glory, deliverance will come and bring us a glory far greater than the pain we endure (Romans 8:18). We remember that how we live through our fears, hurts, isolation, and grief matters to God and influences others (Philippians 1:19-24).
About the author: Phil Ware works with churches in transition with Interim Ministry Partners and for the past 18 years, he has been editor and president of HEARTLIGHT Magazine, author of VerseoftheDay.com and aYearwithJesus.com.
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