24 Questions for Advent: Twenty-Two
Why did you doubt and dance back and forth between following Me and heeding fear?
Matthew 14:31, The Voice
The story of Jesus walking on water and Peter’s attempt at the same is one of the wildest in all of the New Testament. The powerful metaphor of Peter being able to walk on the water when his eyes were on Jesus, and sink when his eyes turned toward the wind, illustrates to us how to deal with fear in our lives. Fear, not doubt, is the opposite of faith, but doubt can be a doorway to both.
The apostle Thomas has long had the nickname “doubting Thomas” because of his response to Jesus’ resurrection, depicted in John chapter 20. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” Thomas asserts to the other disciples. But his position is less about doubt as creating conditions for faith, which is based in fear. When Jesus comes to him, he gives Thomas what he asked for---the physical evidence---but also gently rebukes him by reminding him that most of His followers will not receive such favor.
The classic interaction between Jill and the Lion in The Silver Chair illustrates the “dance back and forth” between fear and faith. Jill is thirsty, and is (understandably) afraid of the Lion, so she tries to bargain by stating conditions for her taking the risk:
“Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion. "I am dying of thirst," said Jill. "Then drink," said the Lion. "May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill. The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic. "Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill. "I make no promise," said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. "Do you eat girls?" she said. "I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. "I daren't come and drink," said Jill. "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion. "Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then." "There is no other stream," said the Lion.
C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
The Lion, like Jesus, is matter-of-fact about who he is, what he is capable of, what we as humans need, and the dilemma that faith creates. He does not seek to rescue Jill from the difficult choice between faith and fear. It is the doorway of doubt through which she---and each of us---must walk. But the clear point is that the faith that God wants to inspire in us is not about the conditions, but in who He is.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
When Jesus echoed that very phrase to Jewish leaders centuries later by declaring “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), it is no wonder that they took up stones to throw at Him. The man they saw in Jesus did not meet with their conditions for faith.
Expressing sincere doubt as a doorway to revelation is a crucial part of building faith, but using doubt as a way to control the conditions for faith is simply masking fear. We are more interested in avoiding being wrong than in living right. We believe that in hiding we are most safe, when in truth our hiding covers us in our own tomb.
There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie
The “continuous resurrection” involves asking, seeking and a willingness to risk on a daily basis. Peter’s failure to keep his faith on the water was far from fatal. Jesus in fact chose to build His Church upon such a Rock.