Monday, February 09, 2009

Faith, Fear and Peanut Butter

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

I’m sitting down to write this just having eaten peanut butter. According to Saturday’s New York Times, that makes me a brave man.

Seems there’s a widespread avoidance of peanut butter these days. The salmonella poisoning that is blamed for nearly 600 illnesses and eight deaths and has prompted massive recalls of peanut buttery type products. People are scared. The fear isn’t directed at the recalled product lines only. It has morphed into a general fear of peanut butter, driving sales down 25% and creating a public relations nightmare for the entire industry. Jif is launching an ad campaign and offering coupons to reassure the public that their peanut butter is just fine.

They won’t have to do a hard sell at the Crumpler house. I’ve got a big jar of Jif that I’m into right now and when that one’s empty there’s another just like it in the pantry ready to be called to duty.

Some might say that’s reckless or foolish, that a measure of caution is called for right now. Of course the makers of Jif will disagree and insist I have nothing to fear and urge me to continue to stock up on those big jars of creamy goodness.

I make no claim to courage in the matter of peanut butter. Truthfully, it’s a bad habit. I’ll put peanut butter on just about anything. For some reason I’m just not afraid of the peanut butter in my house.

Maybe it’s just stubbornness. We’re eaten up with fear these days. We receive relentless daily reminders of reasons why we should worry and fret. Perhaps eating peanut butter can be a form of protest, a refusal to be afraid of one more thing. That’s a stretch – but our fears are out of control. They are disordered and misdirected. Our disordered fears keep us from seeing God in the everyday.


One of the most familiar stories in the gospels is about a storm that swept down on Jesus and his disciples as they made their way across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep in the boat; he must have gone down like a brick because this storm didn’t disturb him in the least. Meanwhile the disciples are nearly undone with fear (Mark 4:35-41).

The story is simple. In their panic they wake Jesus. Jesus speaks to the elements and restores calm to the waters. The telling piece of the story is what happens after the threat has been dealt with. Jesus asks his disciples “why are you so afraid?” The implication is that they should have been secure in his presence and that their faith in him should have strengthened them in the storm.

But in response to what Jesus did, we read that the disciples were “terrified.” This is a different kind of fear: Awe at the power of Jesus; a healthy fear that senses something holy and divine in Jesus. That’s a fear we ought to have.

Our fears are skewed these days. God seems small and impotent, not really able to handle international tensions and global recession. All the while, as God is dwarfed by the cares of the world, those cares grow more ominous with every day. They keep us from finding God in the everyday.

What are your fears today? Maybe it’s time for a quiet protest. Something more than eating peanut butter. Maybe it’s time to let God be God – ruler of all things, large than economies and wars. When God is large we are more likely to see him in everything every day.

Grant us the grace today, Lord Jesus, to see you as you are – Master of all that is, of all that happens. Expand our vision of your place and your power in this world and in our lives. With that vision, increase our faith and make us bold, we pray. Amen.

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