Word of the Month: Lament
Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic was declared, on March 27 Pope Francis gave a meditation on Mark 4 and the calming of the storm. His message: let us give our fears to Jesus so he can conquer them. Perhaps a coincidence, but the next week I read several blogs on Mark 4, Many of those lessons followed Pope Francis and treated fear as a normal response by Christ-followers in difficult circumstances.
To help us put this story in context, it might help to understand how Mark 4 contributes to the message of Mark? In Jesus’ conversation with the disciples, they had not yet developed faith. “Do you not yet have faith?” Jesus asked. There answer was no. None, nada, not a little, not at all, according to Mark’s gospel. Therefore, their fear was a function of having no faith. Jesus is first saying, “for a disciple, faith is normal, even in fearful times.” The problem of Mark 4 is that the disciples did not yet understand who Jesus was. “Who is this?” they asked. They did not understand his power, his purpose, his passion and compassion for them. The calming of the wind and waves is the last story of four chapters that describe who Jesus is. The evil spirits knew his identity—his closest disciples did not. Do we? Do I? Do you?
“for a disciple, faith is normal, even in fearful times.”
A quick survey of Mark 1-4 will orient us, to help us understand the story in its context. 1:14-15, John is in prison, encouraging people to believe the good news! Thus a fearful situation is used for encouragement to believe. 1:40, a leper, who is fearful but faithful, says you can make me clean, appealing to Jesus’ compassion. And throughout Mark chapters 1-4, there are multiple stories of fear and faith. Fear and faith often dwell side by side in the human heart. In fact, in the last phrase of the book, Mark 16:8 says, “they were afraid.” but that fear did not keep them from sharing their faith through the known world.
The Gospel of Mark challenges us to understand an important dynamic: Unresolved fear, angst, generic fear, abstract fear — is not normal for the Christian. Fear of (reverence for) God, yes. But the key is not to eliminate fear. The key is to become comfortable with a great Bible truth – faith and fear dwell side by side in the human heart.
“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”
To understand this truth, Mark 9 is helpful. Coming down from the Transfiguration, Jesus encounters a father with a convulsive son. 9:22, “if you can do anything, help us.” Jesus responded, “If you can? All is possible to believers.” The father’s words reflect great truth: “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Faith and unfaith—side by side. Christ-followers need to respond to the fearful situations of this life differently. The older, mature disciple John, 60 years after Jesus’ ministry writes, “Perfect love casts out fear,” 1 John 4. And this my friends is what we need to cling tightly to. We need to hold tight to God’s perfect love. We need to grab hold of it; ingest it; digest it; believe it; live it our in our every day lives? And when I understand this we will have made major progress toward dealing with fear, by using the power of faith.