Of Faith and Fear…

moby-dickI just finished reading “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.  Almost everyone has heard of this book, but most have probably never read it.  The only reason I did was because I could download it free on my Kindle.  (The Kindle was free, too.  I’m a cheap bugger.)

This is not a review of the book, but I’ll say in brief that, while at times it was tediously detailed about whales and whaling, it should come as no surprise that it’s brilliantly written.

Its relevance to this post is based in the character and behavior of Captain Ahab.  He chased the White Whale literally around the world, confident against all evidence to the contrary that he would kill it.  Toward the end (spoiler alert!) he seems to resign himself to the fact that he will die pursuing the beast, yet that fact doesn’t deter him.

Does that make him brave?

Some people define bravery as the absence of fear in the face of danger.  I would disagree.  There are other words that describe such a condition: foolhardy, ignorant, and senseless are a few that come to mind.  If you go into a dangerous situation and are not afraid to some extent, you’re simply out of touch with reality.

The brave man is not without fear.  He acts in spite of his fear.  The firefighter who rushes into a burning building to save someone is probably (not being a firefighter, I can’t state this categorically) afraid of the possible consequences.  He knows and respects the power of fire.  That fear and respect might, in fact, save his life.  That’s bravery.

Bravery is also seen in my friends with MS.  It’s a “scum-sucking pig of a disease”, as Teri Garr puts it.  Fearing its effects isn’t a cowardly mindset.  In fact, it motivates a lot of us to act to defeat or at least delay the monster.  Those friends are among the bravest people I know.

Talking to another friend recently (you know who you are) a similar thought came up regarding faith.  This person was talking about her occasional lack of faith.  It got me to thinking about our concept of faith.

Is a truly faith-filled person someone who never has doubts?  Again, I would say no.  Faith is acting in spite of our doubts.  If I know something for an absolute fact, there is no faith involved.  If I could prove scientifically that God exists, I wouldn’t need faith.

In his book “Reaching for the Invisible God”, Philip Yancey writes on this topic:

Doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith, and I know no better way to treat a skeleton than to bring it into the open and expose it for what it is: not something to hide or fear, but a hard structure on which living tissue may grow. . . Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all?

Scripture defines faith thus:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Assurance and conviction are strong words, but they leave room for doubt.  Just be thankful that your faith, as anemic as it is, is in a God who can handle your weakness.  As Paul tells his spiritual son Timothy:

…if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.

That’s something to have faith in, not to fear.


About rickconti

It's not about me, remember?
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3 Responses to Of Faith and Fear…

  1. margaret leavister says:

    Rick, I could ‘fess up as the friend of “…I believe ; help my unbelief”, who has inspired you to wax on about the complexities of faith. And so, as an action on what faith I have, I brought that skeleton of doubt out of the closet that the wise man, Yancey, describes– and it doesn’t seem as scary as it could have been! So, thanks for your well thought out perceptions.

  2. Scott B says:

    I’m reading it now myself. Olivia told me about the long parts about whale anatomy. Many of the classics are full of religious imagery if not downright plain religious references. It’s a thing missing from most modern bestsellers and therefore makes them a shallow exploration of the soul-equipped human.

    • rickconti says:

      A similar thought came to me recently when I read “A Wrinkle in Time” – for the first time, believe it or not. Would that book get released by a secular publisher today? How about C. S. Lewis’s works of fiction, the Narnia books or space trilogy. They’d be a hard sell at best.

      Also agree that any examination of humanity without including the spiritual side is vain and fruitless. Always good to hear your thoughts, Scott.

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