A Walk to the Edge of Reason
Childhood fears are not unusual. I remember being afraid of the dark for a while. I was afraid of playground bullies, dogs, and anything with big teeth. I was terrified of spiders and anything with complex eyes and stingers. But I remember one significant fear I had. I was afraid of looking down into water. I guess I was afraid my glasses would come off and fall into the water. (I started wearing glasses in the first grade.) I also did lose a couple of pairs that way from the top bunk bed, that was when they were made of breakable glass. But when I realized I risked losing something I needed for daily life, which I was often reminded was not cheap, every time I looked down into anything, I imagined strange and fearful creatures beneath the murky depths, probably waiting to try my glasses on. I was soon more fearful of those bug-eyed sea creatures with scary teeth in the water than I was of losing my glasses.
Childhood fears are soon replaced with teenage fears—the fear of not being liked, of losing friends, of public humiliation, of flunking a test, of getting caught being dishonest, of being different from everyone else. Some of these fears might make sense, at least to a teenager. Some of them we overcome and outgrow. And some of them are replaced with grownup fears.
We still fear rejection and alienation. We fear failure and getting caught. We fear someone will discover the skeletons in our closet or the wild and crazy thoughts that run amok in our heads. We fear not being able to meet our personal obligations. We fear the criticism of our superiors and the judgment of those under our care. We fear injustice and war, illness and death, infidelity and ignorance, obnoxious people and the whisperings of those who wish us harm. We fear the unknown and the mysterious, the irrational and the absurd. We fear not knowing what’s going on, losing control of our lives and our future, political upheaval, disruptions of the status quo, and the toppling of stable institutions. In the end, we never really get rid of our fears. They just take on new names and become harder to explain or dismiss.
Abraham and Sarah did not get to be parents until they were much older. Isaac had become the center of their lives, the ultimate reason for their every decision and choice. And the greatest unarticulated fear that lurked within their hearts was that they might lose him. They would take every precaution to ensure his safety. They would watch him constantly. Life without him would be too terrible to even imagine. So when God called Abraham to take his son Isaac on a journey and offer him as a holocaust, I’m sure Abraham was terrified out of his mind. If his son were ever harmed in an accident or suffered some illness, he could at least comprehend cause and effect. But he would never think of harming his own child. It is easy to dismiss this story as just another story, or at best a colorful way to illustrate Abraham’s tremendous faith in God. But it deserves further examination. Abraham probably never told Sarah all the details, or the child would never have been allowed to leave the house. But God took Abraham to the edge of reason and asked him to let go. Despite his unwavering obedience, we cannot overlook the anguish he must have suffered on the way to the mountain top. We already know the outcome, that God was testing him, and he passed with flying colors. Would you and I have been as ready to trust God as Abraham did? Like most people, the road to total trust in God is a lengthy journey. And along that journey, we come to discover why we are afraid and why God is worthy of trust. Slowly, without understanding all the details, we hand over to God what is most important to us as we gradually learn that all will be safe in God’s care.
When Jesus took three of his closest friends up the mountain, he gave them no prior warning. Unlike with Abraham, this was not the mountain where their faith would be severely tested. The experience upon this mountain would prepare them for events they did not yet know about. Somewhere down the road, Jesus would take them to the edge of reason and ask them to let go. In the meantime, he had to help them let go of their fears and trust him completely. The journey they took that day is an image of our own journey, with our own brushes with success and failure. Slowly we hand over to God what is most important as we learn that all would be safe in God’s care.
We can tell that St. Paul had encountered enough significant challenges in life to write convincingly about total trust in God. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This from a man who suffered persecution many times for preaching the gospel, and at the time of the writing of this letter to the Romans, sat in jail awaiting a hearing before the Emperor. “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?” In the end, he would go to his death with confidence in God’s wisdom and power to save.
Quite naturally, when we encounter difficulty in life, we might equate trust in God with deliverance from fear and suffering. And if we do not succeed the way the world sees success, we might assume we do not possess enough trust in God. But faith and trust are not measured by worldly success. God alone rewards faith and trust. Yet if we are intent on following Jesus, we know we will have to walk the road to Calvary. We should remember, too, that the journey to complete trust and faith takes time, and that we might have to climb many other mountains on our way to Calvary.
We will encounter numerous fears as we journey through life. Every now and then, we will also experience success and deliverance from suffering. But the ultimate test is when God takes us to the edge of reason and asks us to let go. The right response will not come easily or without struggle, not until we can hand over to God all that is important, and believe all will be safe.
I think I’m over my fear of looking into water. I can jump off a dock and swim in a lake. No big deal. But handing over to God all that is important in my life is something I’m still working on. I have seen many people let go of their loved ones bravely in death. Their example gives me courage. I know I will have to do the same one day. I do not hesitate to declare that our dearly departed are safe in his care. I am hoping I will believe it just as strongly when God takes me to the edge of reason and asks me to let go.
Lent leads us to Easter and new life. But it will take us first through Good Friday and Calvary. We’re not there yet. So we learn to trust God more. We will need it.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015