Pastor: David Morelli
Editor: Dave Haugh
We are soon to be on our vacation to see the grand old USA, visiting some our most famous national parks, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.
As I reflect on the birthday of our country, recent stories in the news that tell us about the measures our country has taken to keep us safe, know my daughter and her country will never know what it was like to board a plane without going through security, or not do a drill at school in case someone was to come through with an assault rifle. I struggle with the idea of fear and security, freedom and loyalty.
My grandfather had saved a collection of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s sermons written during war time (WWII). Fosdick had many words of wisdom. He wrote that by the very nature of war we have to give up freedoms and turn over certain authority to fight for our freedom to keep us safe: In his case the threat of Hitler. In our case it is the threat of radicalism from all sources, foreign and domestic. Fear becomes the heart of decisions made.
The story of Jesus calming the storm found in Mark chapter four addresses fear. The word translated as “afraid” is used two different ways. Jesus asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?” (of the storm). Then in the next sentence, Mark writes, after Jesus quiets the storm, that they were afraid (of Jesus), and ask, “Who is this?” I worry that people turn away from God because they are told to be afraid, be very afraid. And yet the Gospel says God is love. If this is so, why are we told to be afraid of God.
This led me to read the passage in Greek. The word Mark uses to describe the fear the disciples had for the storm is “deilos”, which means timid or cowardly. This is a different word Mark uses when describing their emotion after Jesus calmed the storm.
This word is “phobia”, which is the word we use to describe fear. Not only is it phobia, it is phobia, phobia. Literally translated, they feared great fear. When we use the word phobia in our language it usually means an unreasonable fear, or a fear that leads to fight or flight. Phobia in Greek means “to flee”. NRSV translate this phrase, phobia, phobia, as “awe”.
So I am back to my problem. Why would Mark want us to flee God or be afraid of God. Sometimes the sense of awe has that element of fear. In fact, Jesus responds to their ‘fear’ of the storm, do not to be ‘deilos’, (timid). The Greek language has another word that means ‘to intimidate’, so we can eliminate the idea that Jesus wanted to intimidate them by calming the storm. So what does this word ‘phobia’ imply.
It seems I am not the only one with this problem. Matthew and Luke wrestle with this in their related story. Mark is considered to be the first gospel written, and Matthew and Luke take many of their stories from Mark. In both Matthew and Luke they substitute the word phobia with the word that means ‘amazed’. Which, I believe softens their emotional response to Jesus calming the storm.
Now, the problem with this is that amazement does not imply the power and authority needed to lead to glorifying and worshipping God. Do we glorify and worship a magician that has amazed us?
I only bring this up because in these times some people are telling us we should be afraid, and others are telling us not to live in fear. Some say God is punishing us and we should be afraid (fight or flight) of God, other reduce God to nothing (just amazing) ready to hug us in times of trouble, but no power to still the storm.
One of the best quotes of what I am trying to say is by a race car driver. He said, “Fear can cost a race car driver a win. Lack of fear can cost him his life.” Here the word fear is used in two different ways. My hope is that understanding the nuances of fear will help us identify various emotions in times of crisis, and to make wise decisions about security gained and freedoms lost and balance our loyalty to our country and loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Newsletter PDF: Vol. 36, No 7-8, July-Aug 2013