Martin Luther was the founder of the Protestant Reformation, a teacher of theology, and a terrified soul. His decision to enter the ministry came out of fear. He was walking along and a thunderstorm erupted around him. He ran for shelter under a tree and cowered as the storm raged around him. In that moment he vowed to become a monk.
Gideon, from the book of Judges (ch.6-8) is found threshing wheat, which wasn’t too strange, but he was doing it in a winepress. The winepress was deep enough to hold all the grapes and allowed Gideon to do his threshing out of sight of the oppressive Midianites. He was terrified that they would come and take the food his family needed to live. When an angel came and talked to him he protested, saying that he was the weakest of a weak family from a weak tribe. By the way, Gideon’s name means: Mighty Warrior.
Luther went to live in a monastery and studied theology hoping to get rid of his fear. But he felt even more afraid all the time. He constantly worried about sin and confessed so much that his superiors got tired of listening to him. No amount of confession or penance could make Luther feel safe or saved.
When the angel spoke to Gideon he deflected, changed the subject and asked questions. He wanted to know why God would allow the Midianites to rule over Israel. He wanted to know why God would talk to someone as small and weak as him. Fear and doubt made him question everything, even to the point where he asked for proof -- not once but three times.
Luther eventually stopped trying to prove himself safe or saved and changed his focus to the saving power of Jesus. Luther’s doubts and fears were the spark that, ultimately, started the Protestant Reformation that swept through Europe in the sixteenth century. His fear changed the world.
Gideon is famous for putting out the fleece. When God told him to go and attack the Midianites Gideon wanted proof. He wanted assurance that God would be with him. So he put out some fleece and asked that it be covered in dew but the ground around it dry. It was. But that wasn’t good enough for Gideon. He asked for more proof. He asked that the next time the fleece be dry and the ground wet. It was.
Both Luther and Gideon lived with fear and doubt. It crippled them, in a way. But it also gave them the strength to ask questions. Gideon started asking why God would use someone like him, why God would abandon his people and if God would do what he promised. Luther asked questions about salvation, forgiveness and the work of Jesus in the lives of believers. Both of them, through their fear, helped countless others.
Fear, doubt, pain, confusion, mourning, loss and all the similar emotions can feel like a bad thing. They can feel overwhelming, and even wrong. I’ve been told, many times, that doubt is wrong. That we should not fear. If God is with us, we don’t have anything to fear, right? That’s what the bible says, right?
Yes and no. The bible does say that we don’t need to fear, but it does not say that it’s wrong to feel afraid. It says we don’t need to doubt, but it doesn’t say that it’s wrong to doubt.
Theologians talk about the kingdom of God as something that is already, but not yet. That is, it’s already a reality: God rules his kingdom, where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. But it is not yet fully realized: sin, death and pain still exist in this world and prevent the complete realization of God’s kingdom right now.
We live in this in-between time where God has already made it so we don’t need to fear or doubt, but we are not yet at the time when doubt and fear are erased from the world. It’s not wrong to feel. It’s not wrong to feel doubt. And it’s not wrong to feel doubt toward God. Those feelings can spur important questions that can, like Luther and Gideon, help many people to walk through doubt and fear to find God.
Do you have a phobia? If so, what is it? How does it affect your life?
Have you felt scared enough to hide? What happened?
Some people think that depression exists, in part, to force us to ask the questions of fear and doubt. Do you think that’s accurate? What has your experience been with feeling depressed?
How would it change your life if you saw fear and doubt as God given tools to help yourself and others?