From Fear to Arrogance - and back again!
Today the Church offers us two images: Job being told off by God and Jesus telling off the disciples for their lack of faith. In both we receive a lesson but each lesson has a different challenge.
Job has been trying to question God and eventually God has had enough of such arrogance. He asks Job in the heart of a storm, “can you make the sunrise in the east and set in the west? Can you say to the waves of the sea stop here?” This questioning goes on for hours and Job has to admit that the answer is no. He puts his hand over his mouth and remains silent.
On the sea of Galilee, during a storm, the disciples question Jesus who is asleep with his head on a cushion. “Don’t you care that we are drowning?” they ask. Jesus stands and calms the storm and then asks them a double question: “why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” But they were overwhelmed by Jesus and could not speak.
Both incidents demonstrate two ways of losing touch with the presence of God: through arrogance and through fear.
Fear When I believe that I know best, when I stop listening to other people’s views with an open mind my vision narrows. Then I am likely to canonise every idea that I have and organise the world around myself and my ideas. I have taken the place of God. I have no need for a messiah because I have become my own messiah.
On the other hand, when I believe that I am totally powerless, in a storm that I cannot control I can slip into despair. I lose all sense of meaning and see myself as something adrift and alone. Fear has isolated me from everyone, including God and life seems brutish and brief. I no longer believe that my redeemer lives, I no longer believe in God’s love and care for me.
All of us can appear at any point on this spectrum of faith but, because of our personality and history, we may find one extreme more attractive than the other. If Fear is the extreme we move towards, if we feel frozen and uncertain then the journey to God’s presence is through courage and gentleness. Starting to do something brings with it an energy to do a little more. Engaging with people, touching creation and being relentlessly gentle in taking small steps brings us back into the presence of God as our messiah. The strength of God’s relationship within you is always greater than the obstacles before. Why are you afraid says Jesus, for I am with you in the storm, with you in illness, with you in suffering, with you in death and with you in paradise.
The other extreme also involves an element of splendid isolation. I can do things alone, my ideas are thought out and clear and I know where I am, where I am going and how to get there. I am chasing success, recognition, achievement self-satisfaction. I have made myself an idol and there is no room for God to act within me. All that God can do is disrupt my progress and hope that I will turn to him. So, the journey to God from arrogance involves a Job – like humility, a widening of my views and an ability to listen to others. I re-join community as an equal and not as an expert and I discover a deeper wisdom in others.
When I can achieve the balance between fear and arrogance, I find God is more accessible. This is an asceticism of balance, the middle way that is sometimes called temperance in the language of Salesian spirituality. It is the place where we are no longer hiding from God. Both fear and arrogance are like the fig leaves used by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We keep hiding behind them and are challenged to stand in naked trust before God so that he can redeem us and heal us.
How do you hide from God?
Busyness, certainty, procrastinating, false modesty, dismissiveness, anger, shyness, tiredness, impatience, sadness……………
All the above can be symptoms of a tendency to let fear or arrogance dominate our minds and the challenge in each case is different.
Fear is not cast off by anger or self-loathing but only by loving kindness. But that kindness needs to involve small steps that open the door to action, shared projects and relationships. It is in those exchanges that the presence of God kindles greater courage to do a little more and gradually begin to live a life of trust in God. That is the trust that Jesus lived in His Father. That is why he could put his head on a cushion and sleep soundly through a storm.
Arrogance is overcome by listening and humility. Even though I may feel my ways are best and my ideas are clever, I need to hold back and listen to others with an open mind. A narrow view only takes me down the rabbit hole of my own ego but others ideas liberate me and connect me again with community. For that to happen I need to find humility. I need to know the shortness of my life and live and think on a wider horizon. Then my ideas and plans shrink back into perspective and I become less precious and defensive about what I think. God is no longer in my pocket and becomes a God of surprises speaking to me through faults, through others’ ideas and opening up the deeper wisdom of God that so often looks like foolishness.
I wonder if we can turn to face God and away from arrogance and fear in our daily pattern of living?
I wonder if my tendency to fear or arrogance can be challenged by good friends?
I wonder if we really recognise our dignity as God's flawed and loved children?