Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fear or Faith?

During the times of the great persecutions against the early church, Felicitas, a pregnant Carthaginian slave woman, lay in prison. Refusing to recant her faith, she was condemned to be thrown to the beasts in the arena. The night before her martyrdom, she gave birth. As she screamed in pain during her labor, her jailors mocked and tormented her. They asked how, if she couldn't stand the pains of childbirth, would she ever be able to face the beasts in the arena the next day? She replied: "Now I suffer what I suffer; then another will be in me who will suffer for me, as I shall suffer for him." Her reply points to her understanding of the nature and love of God. They reflect the words of Moses to Joshua in Deut 31 as Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you . . . . The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Felicitas fully believed that God was with her and would not abandon her as she faced death the following day.

Fear! The word paralyzes us. We are afraid of being laughed at for our faith. We are afraid of being ostracized. We are afraid of being different. We are afraid that things are out of control. There is much apprehension in the world today – terrorism, the economy, high unemployment, etc. that can cause us to fear. The world wants us to be afraid. It wants us to look to it for solutions and comfort instead of to God. It desires that we look to its governments as our savior instead of God. It expects us to look to it in time of crisis. It wants us to forget that God is with us, and thus to be afraid. It wants us to conform to its values instead of to God's values. With its constant onslaught against us we can easily lose sight of the fact that God is really with us.

Fear implies a lack of trust in God’s ability. We doubt we have the strength to provide the answers to the problems we are facing. We aren’t sure where to turn. We can even begin to doubt that God can answer. But God wants us to have total faith in him. He wants us to believe that no matter what the outcomes of the situations facing us in life, he is trustworthy. We can count on him to provide for us in times of crisis, even when things don’t turn out quite like we might wish.

Joshua, confident in the strength of God's promise, led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Felicitas, grasping one of the central truths of Christianity, stood firm in her faith as she faced death in the arena. Martin Luther made his well known statement "Here I stand" based upon his conviction that God was with him when he was asked to recant his beliefs. Each knew that the God who loves us so much that He sent his only Son into the world to save us by his death will never forsake us. He will always be with us as he leads us through every trial on the way to glory. How strong is your faith? Is it as strong as that of Felicitas?