Pistis and Phobos!
The stories in today’s Bible reading, where Jesus calms the storm and heals the demon-possessed man, have been discussed in some detail already by Andy Moyle and Andy King, so rather than cover the same ground, I am going to focus on two key themes that stood out from these narratives, and the tension between them. They are pistis and phobos – faith and fear!
When the disciples in the boat woke Jesus to tell Him of their fear, Jesus asked them ‘Where is your faith?’ This question presupposes that the disciples have faith… they just seem to have misplaced it! When I was little, my mum might say to me ‘Where are your shoes?’ because she knew I had shoes. She wouldn’t say to me ‘Where is your car?’ because she knew I didn’t have one! Jesus is clearly convinced that the disciples should have faith, but why so? Because faith is a gift from God. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament of mighty men of God who had the gift of faith. Noah, for one, who spent 120 years building an ark in preparation for a storm when there had until that point never been rain on the earth. Abraham, another, set out from home and all that was safe and familiar, on the promise of God to make him a great nation.
When we believe in Jesus, God gives us a ‘saving faith’. It is impossible for non-believers to have faith in Jesus, because faith is a gift we receive when we believe! It is not a human emotion we can whip up by trying hard. It is God’s guarantee that He will fulfil the revelation he has begun in us. And this is where we come back to the disciples… as believers in Jesus, even though Jesus hadn’t yet died for them and us, God had given them the gift of faith. It appears, though, that they weren’t laying claim to it.
A friend recently gave me a beautiful boxed Cadbury Egg, which I have placed in the back of the cupboard until Easter. I know it’s there and every now and again I catch sight of it, so I have received the present, but I haven’t opened it. I have stored the gift, but I’m not yet digging into that delicious chocolate. I am excited to unwrap it and even though I don’t yet know the exact contents of the box, I am convinced it’s going to be good!
Faith is a little bit like my egg. It’s a present, but we have to (1) know it’s there, (2) open it/activate it and (3), dig into it. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” God’s small is big to us! Even though the faith He gives us may be only the size of a mustard seed, it can move mountains and NOTHING will be impossible for us. And the most amazing thing is that, unlike with my friend’s gift, we can keep on asking God for more! When life circumstances seem to be flooding our boats, we can pray to God for more faith!
Over the course of our Christian lives, as we learn more about God, read His word, receive answers to prayer and see changes in our own lives and in the lives of others, our faith continues to grow. God progressively reveals Himself to us, as He guaranteed with His deposit of faith when we were saved. God grows our faith. In the dictionary, faith and belief are often considered synonyms, but whereas believing is a human condition – the result of an intellectual consideration or evaluation of a situation, biblically speaking, faith, pistis, can only ever be a gift from God, never something produced by people.
The second key theme is fear, phobos, which stands in opposition to faith. Fear comes from the enemy, while faith comes from God. Fear binds, whereas faith releases. In both passages, we see how people are stricken with terror, which keeps them from overcoming situations. Despite some of the disciples having a background as fishermen, which surely meant they would have experienced squalls such as these before, their fear caused them to believe they were going to drown. In the stress of the moment, they ignored the faith God had given them. I’m not judging! I’ve done this myself in the past. My attention has been so focused on a downward spiralling situation that fear has gripped and I have forgotten to look to the Father and the faith with which He has equipped me to move mountains! In the second story, the Gerasenes were so fearful of what Jesus had done in healing the demoniac man that they asked Him to leave! And Jesus, their only possible route to faith, simply got in the boat and left! Jesus never forces himself on anyone but He responds rapidly and lovingly to those who invite Him in.
Often we can feel fear, even when we are walking in faith, following God’s prompting, but the key is not to succumb to feelings and to keep in mind God’s promise of an ever deeper revelation of himself.
I come back to my chocolate egg analogy – let’s be excited to unwrap the faith God has given us, and even though we don’t yet know the exact contents of the promise of revelation, we can be sure that it’s going to be good!