To have faith means to trust the Lord and to sense His living presence in one’s life. Faith brings us our inner peace, tranquillity and confidence. Fear, on the other hand, thrives when we are overwhelmed by acute anxiety in the face of an imminent danger or trying times in our lives, and have no confidence in a positive outcome. When overwhelmed by fear, we lose our sense of security. For a Christian who puts his trust in the Lord, succumbing to this kind of fear would mean losing the sense of God’s presence. This creates in him the impression that he had been left to his own devices in his predicament.
Is God still around? Has He abandoned this Christian? No, the Christian himself has forgotten about His presence. The spiritual reality in which we exist is always determined by the way in which we see it. A Christian who acts sinfully places himself outside of the spiritual reality with God in it. As the Holy fathers wrote, someone who has not seen God in his life will not see Him after death. One thing might mean by this is that the spiritual reality is defined by our priorities; sin desecrates it and puts us outside it.
Our spiritual vision is blinded by fear. It is not surprising, then, that fear is sometimes described as the devil’s weapon. A Christian’s life is always a struggle for focus. Christ calls on us to be vigilant and alert, which means never losing sight of things that are of greatest value and of greatest importance.
Fear paralyses our will and acts destroys our ability to concentrate. At times of our great anxiety, it would be right to turn to God and send Him our fervent prayer and pleas for His help. In doing so, we might flounder, but not fall. Sometimes, however, the sight of danger may deprive us of all our will and sensibility, and cause us to behave instinctively. Even among some Orthodox Christians, the expectation of the end of times sometimes escalated to doomsday panic; This panic was causing some of the faithful to get into groups within the Church, some of which have evolved into what we now call sects. The underlying reason for this is that the lives of these Christians came to be driven by fear, rather than faith. Or, more exactly, they developed a faith in their fear. This might sound like a contradiction in terms, but let us still try to understand how fear might take the place of a religion.
We know that fear paralyses our will. When this happens, we can no longer remain sober in viewing our situation, and we are also powerless to overcome the numbness of our mind and to stop the escalation of the fear. As the fear grows, our mind develops the habit of fear. It becomes its obedient servant; it creates patterns of thought which appear logical and which we are keen to reproduce time and again. Fear wins. Faith is defeated.
Fear dominates a person’s behaviour by exploiting his instincts. The instinct of self-preservation is perhaps one of the strongest. It is powerful enough to drive some people – grappled with a fear that had reached the scale of a paranoia – into the depth of the Siberian forests. Let is also note here that people may freely choose to become hermits in the Siberian wilderness to become closer to God and to grow in their faith, and not in the least out of fear.
What we are referring to in this context is the eschatological fear, which causes some people to lose faith in the true Lord. In their minds, God becomes more of an abstraction, although they might vehemently deny this. To them, spiritual beings of a different kind are taking precedence; they appear to them in many forms, ranging from passport and ID numbers to the anti-Christ himself. Such frightful Christians would rather live in fear than see Christ.
He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40). The Disciples were afraid of the storm, He calmed it down. With God, everything is possible. If He is with us, what could frighten us? Not a hair on our head will perish without God’s will. We have laid our full trust in the Lord; we have entrusted Him our lives and are prepared to follow Him anywhere. How can we still fear, wherever it might come from – our everyday lives or our doomsday fantasies?
Faith, of course, is not something that is born of itself. To acknowledge and believe in the existence of God does not yet mean to have a faith that is strong enough to move a mountain. Growing the seeds of faith in one’s heart takes a long-time effort and hard work; it takes experience, wisdom and courage, the ability to face adversity and learn one’s lessons, many years of prayer and partaking in the Holy Sacraments, great self-control and full trust in the Lord. Fear is not compatible with faith, save the fear of God, which means not doing anything to displease Him and obeying His laws. Trust in the Lord and our readiness to submit our lives in His caring hands liberates us from anxiety, apprehension and panic and helps us hold on to our faith, the lifeline that connects us to Him. We all need to have stronger faith, and we all trust that the Lord will help us overcome our unbelief.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds