When I was in private practice as a psychologist, a counselee would sometimes sense a door was opening into a long denied terror. And it was the fear of facing fear that would bring on what felt like a life or death struggle. In a quivering voice the counselee would then say, “If I let myself feel what scares me the most, I think I’d start crying and never stop.”
The writer to the Hebrews told us that Christ has :
“set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.” (Hebrews 2: 15 NLT).
For humans made in God’s image to live alive with God and for God, the fear of dying can be understood as the terror of living without love or meaning, the dread of an existence unprotected from troubles that could destroy all hope of deep satisfaction.
Right now, God’s ways are not making sense to me. Significant prayers, defined as requests not for health or wealth or success or recognition but only for the basics needed for me to feel safe from practical and emotional disaster, for some time have gone unanswered. I find myself enjoying a good television show more than God. I’m not in a good place.
Last night I picked a book off my shelves that I hadn’t read, a book I have no memory of buying. It’s a novel by G.K. Chesterton, one of my favorite authors, a book titled The Ball and the Cross. It’s a fanciful allegory about someone who believes in God arguing with an atheist. The Cross, of course, is the symbol of Christianity; the ball represents the globe, the world peopled with both Christians and atheists.
Early on, Chesterton has a godly man suspended above the ball desperately hanging on to a cross, swinging above “the sickening emptiness of air”. If the cross doesn’t support him, he will fall into nothingness, a pointless existence. Chesterton describes this man’s experience in a way that revived something in me. The man suspended by a cross above the ball
“… felt in the taut moment of such terror that his chief danger was terror itself… His one wild chance of coming out safely would be in not too desperately desiring to be safe” (my emphasis).
I read this into Chesterton’s phrase: one chance of coming out safely from an unmanageable, soul-threatening challenge to faith in God “would be in not too desperately desiring to be safe.”
An old truth is coming into clearer focus. When I insist on feeling safe, I risk living in the darkness of fear that danger could destroy me. Things might not work out as I want them to, and I could be intensely discouraged. My desperate desire for safety, a demand for God to provide the basics necessary for me to feel safe, strengthens my fear to face what I fear that could leave me desolate. And that fear impels me to deny the darkness of potential desolation, a darkness that could weaken my faith in God when He makes no sense, when He remains unresponsive to my “reasonable” requests for what would let me feel safe.
But that darkness could be my friend. I think that is Chesterton’s point. Darkness is my best opportunity to see light, but only when I give up the desperate desire to feel safe on my terms. Of course I’ll tremble when God’s ways make no sense. The passion of my demanding spirit of entitlement could lead me as I tremble into the quagmire of resentful resignation. Or legitimate trembling over life’s disappointments and difficulties could lead to settled trust that somehow His sovereign love is working all things together for the good that He understands to be my deepest good, what I long for the most, to know God and to rest in His sovereign goodness and love. Maybe the Cross will do what needs to be done. I’m betting on it.
I hope my counselees from years ago have come to know what now encourages me: if I let myself feel what scares me the most, I can seize the opportunity of darkness to believe that God is shining light on a path that leads to life. I might cry, buy not for long.
 G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, Dover Publications, N.Y., first published in 1909-1910; republished 1995 p8.