Of fear, guilt, and incrimination...
This is a blog I’ve struggled to write for a while, in part because I knew not where to take it, in part because I’ve written on this subject before. And yet this touches upon something new, and I feared where it would go.
Those who have followed my posts may recognize something in this photo… most likely that I end up shooting such scenes quite often. Especially during the winter, when my long afternoon walks inevitably end in twilight or darkness. Frankly, these views fascinate me, for they remind me of John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
I love those words, and even more, the one who spoke them – Jesus Christ, the son of God. The irony here is that, in this photo, I’m walking into darkness, with the backlighting receding into night. That simply reflects my position and the earth’s rotation, not some effort to confront or conflict with my Lord’s words. It’s my heart that connected these two unrelated scenes, perhaps from the closeness I feel to nature, or the lack of concern I have for my welfare. Or perhaps all this highlights my fears.
You see, I live in fear – not one of death or attackers or monsters or shadows, but myself. I fear failure – failing God, failing my friends or loved ones, failing myself. For with a life marred by divorce and strife, I know I’ve failed in this before, and I fear – I know – I’ll do it again. I don’t want to, but I’m weak, and I’m human. And I hate that I know it, and I fear it.
Indeed, I fear I’m failing right now. It’s one reason I struggled with this blog. I fear writing about it. Facing it.
And that light only reinforces this truth, for the light ever shines upon it. It highlights something I will never be, no matter how much I love it and follow it and believe in it.
That’s where some of this conflict comes from, for part of me fights this. “OF COURSE!” it shouts in my mind. “What did you expect? You are not God! You will ALWAYS fail at some point or another! You’re HUMAN!”
Which leaves that other part of me whimpering even more, for I so want to be like Christ. And yet I see myself fail every day…
The fact that I’m writing this in a blog, a tool I use in my attempt to share my faith, makes this all the more difficult. I fear I’m failing with my novels, my songs, my blog. This is my personal ministry, one I’ve given up so much to do, and yet I fear I’m failing. I see it daily. My books aren’t selling. I’m struggling to edit the next one. I accidentlly deleted eight chapters, in an act so stupid, it got me to wondering whether it reflected a defense mechanism of some sort, by that part of me that refused to realize I was too stubborn to give up now, even as I wonder if anyone will ever really read it. Am I wasting my time? Does it matter… do I matter?
To which one side of my mind laughs. Ahh… how blindly stupid I can be! There’s that verse in John so drummed into my head that many people cry out in weariness of its words, and yet this is exactly why those words were written – indeed, why they are drummed into my head.
It’s so simple! “For God so loved the world” – which includes ME – “that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
“Do I matter?” How can anyone who believes in Christ ask that question? Jesus died on the cross for ME…
Oh, the words of Jesus so strike home right now. As He told the apostle Paul, shared to us in 2nd Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
My weakness, in other words.
Paul goes on to share this wisdom: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
How often I cave into my own fears and forget such things! Peter brought it home in a letter we call 1st Peter. Look to chapter 4, verses 12 and 13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”
Rejoicing in my weakness… something my weakness so refuses to do. And yet my intellect, by Bible reading, takes arms with these words, offering a helping hand. It reminds me that this spirit God gave me is not one of fear but of power and love and self-control…. That reverberates from 2nd Timothy 1:7, if you want to look it up.
And what if I don’t feel this power and love and self-control, my negative mindset argues?
Oh, it should know by now not to contest my stubborn scholarly heart, which falls back on 1st Peter 5:7, telling me to cast all my anxieties on Him, because He cares for you and me. And then it quotes Philippians 4:19… “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
And when my weakness lingers, I’m reminded of 1st John 4:18… “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Ah! My debating soul chimes in there, for fear has a place in scripture and God’s creation… it can give us a healthy respect for what we face, help us prepare for dangers, and generally urge us to take care of ourselves. Proverbs often encourages us to hold such fear/respect towards God, starting with chapter 1, verse 7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs refines this in 8:13, 9:10, 19:23, reinforcing the good that comes in such respect. “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight…. The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
Yes, a healthy fear of God is a good thing, as Job 28:28 reminds us: “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” This also rises in Psalm 111:10 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”
And yet here lies perhaps the deepest irony of scripture, for far more verses encourage us to turn to God when we fear. “Be strong and courageous,” Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us. “Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
God repeats this in Isaiah 41:10 – “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
David assured his son Solomon of this in 1st Chronicles 28:20 – “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” That takes poetic force in what may be David’s most famous song, Psalm 23, and others, like Psalm 34:4… “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” Or Psalm 56:3-4… “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” Or Psalm 118:6… ‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
What can man do to me… Oh, Lord! I’ve just spent a whole winding blog writing about the seeds that conflict, doubts, and fear may plant in a soul. It’s not just what a man can do to me, but what my own mind and heart may undo, enabling my weakness… Oh, how may a tormented mind escape such circular, defeatist arguments?
Again, scripture offers answers. There’s 1st John 4:1, a verse I go to often: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
False prophets… voices that distort the words of our Lord, or flee His love, hope, and light… Yes, I should cling to the light, for that shines the way to truth. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 8:32 refines this further with still more words of Christ: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But why am I torn like this? James 1:2-4 offers some insight… “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings,” Paul told us in Romans 5:3-5, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
These are admittedly old words, often drummed into my soul. Romans 8:28 comes to mind: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
My reasoning heart then challenges me: What does it matter if my books sell? If one person’s life is touched, is that not enough? If but one person finds Christ this way, is that not worth the effort?
For indeed, what else should we live for? Money, travel, shelter, comfort? What should we value?
As Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Romans 8:18 offers so much clarity here… “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
And is this not what God meant when, as written in Jeremiah 29:11, our Lord told us all, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And that leads me to Paul’s wisdom in 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4… “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
Which is ultimately why I published this blog, not to share my inner shame, but to offer hope and encouragement to those who endure similar battles, as I may again tomorrow. As Romans 12:12 reminds us, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” For as Philippians 1:29 tells us, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for his sake.” This is echoed in 1st Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”