On the same vacation that I spoke about in the last post my family, I, and my in laws went to the theme park in Hershey, PA that sits adjacent to Chocolate World (where they actually make Hershey’s Chocolate and other candy brands in the Hershey’s stable). At that theme park there is a roller coaster called the “Super Dooper Looper” that had a height requirement low enough for my 5 year old daughter Kartsen to be eligible for the unique brand of good times that only comes on a thrill ride. I myself no longer ride roller coasters, I’ve willingly hung up my spurs (that’s only figurative language, I still wear my actual spurs) in favor of variety shows and sitting in the shade. With my ride retirement going very strong my wife is the designated coaster-companion, and she stepped into the line to await one of the defining experiences of a child’s young life: the first upside down roller coaster.
After the good times were sufficiently wrung out of the coasters my wife and I got a chance to review Karsten’s first big ride. She told me that Karsten had looked over at her and matter-of-factly said, “Don’t worry mommy, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of.” Well, of course there’s nothing to worry about in her 5 year old world; in that land of princesses and unicorns roller coasters never fly off the rails and safety systems never fail to support the thousands of pounds of steel that make a roller coaster. I sent a friend of mine, who recently took a metallurgy class (I didn’t know that was a real science either) a cell phone picture and asked him if the tensile strength looked sufficient for me to put my daughter on it. He replied with some technical jargon that basically put him on the same side as the amusement park. However, despite this cellular reassurance I recently read an article that listed and described the ten worst roller coaster tragedies in history, which was sort of like watching all of the Chucky movies back to back before while having a conversation about how many children you want to have.
It’s interesting how we as “responsible adults” decide what to be afraid of. We have a tendency to base our rational fears on research, probability, and historical experience. Children, on the other hand, tend to base their fears on what might be scary at the moment. There is very little in children that strives to look into the future for probably outcomes. Often, they are absolutely 100% on board until a real monster actually shows up. Granted there are those times when they seem to be unreasonably afraid of certain things, but I would almost bet that the majority of those fears have been nurtured in them by either their own historical experience, or the “advice” of adults.
I can think of few scenes in the Gospels that would have been as terrifying to me as the sea storms that the disciples endured, both with Jesus and then without Him. I’m not wild about boats in general, though a bass boat on a morning lake is an exception I will make, but to be caught up in fear for life itself on a wild and tumultuous lake is a rough proposition. What strikes me, particularly about the Matthew 14 story, is Peter’s response to the fear once he saw Jesus walking toward the frightened fishermen’s boat. It was not peace that became the opposite of terror that fateful night, it was faith.
We are looking, typically, for those situations that cause our fears to be eliminated. If we were perfectly honest the prayers below our prayers, the deep heart-level feelings that are often different than our words, are more about calm and rest than faith. Though we’ve been told what to pray for in times of hardship – Thy will, not my will be done – the more frightening the experience the more we are likely to give way to prayers of self-preservation. What I think happened in Peter’s mind, on the night that he went dancing with the waves, was not a lack of fear. I do not believe, for a second, that he stopped being afraid. What I believe is that Peter figured out the perfect balance between fear and love. I know that John tells us that perfect love drives out all fear, but the word fear in that verse, which is, incidentally, the same word used by Matthew in his description of the disciples’ reaction, not to the storm, but to Jesus as He walked to them on the water – that word is defined by ideas like “terror”, but it has a secondary definition that is curious.
The Greek word for fear is phobos. Phobos, along with dread, means “reverence for one’s husband”. There is no implication of coerced compliance in this word, but more a reaction to a situation or stimulus. Why I say that Peter didn’t stop being afraid has everything to do with Jesus. Jesus set out walking on the waves that night, striding confidently on the inky abyss, and in an instant He showed Himself to be far more powerful and terrifying than the thing that threatened Pete’s mortal life. So what was the difference? Why was Peter trying to avoid one fear but walking toward the other? Relationship.
Karsten had no framework for a negative fear on the Super Dooper Looper because, I believe, she was strapped into a seat with her mom. Peter was in the same boat (which is indeed a pun) after he recognized Jesus. Was Jesus weaker than the storm? Was Jesus any less wild than the storm? Was Jesus’ treatment of the disciples any less demanding than the storm? No to all the above. The difference was that Jesus loved them. The storm had no love to offer, the Savior had eternal love to share.
Friends, what I would offer you today is this: where real fear and true love come together, courage is born. And friends, courage is far more valuable than tranquility any day of the week.