Terror is way more debilitating than just being afraid. Terror holds us in its icy cruel grip. Terror turns heroes into zeroes. Terror melts the mighty into helplessness. Terror leads us to hesitate in the moments we need to act decisively. Terror scrambles our thoughts when we need clarity. Terror shuts down our system and leads us to respond without control, without direction, and driven by panic.
Maybe you have been there. That place where life shifts from concern and fear into all out terror. You are not sure you can endure what you are about to face. And if you can survive it, you are not sure you want to endure what it takes to survive.
Terror can own us: every thought… every moment… every heartbeat.
We turned the corner of the river. What the canyon wall had hidden and what we feared we would find were now revealed. The fury of an early spring storm. The river was now a terrifying run into a screaming gale with waves crashing over our low flat bow. The right side of the river, the high bank of rock not twenty yards away, was being blitzkrieged by loud cracks of lightning and blinding light — not something you want happening near you as you sit in an aluminum boat.
The left bank was barren except for a few old oaks and grass bent sideways by the wind. We had to make a run for the flat bank, but there would 15-20 minutes of wind, waves, lightning, and no place to hide before we made it. Terror fueled our frantic efforts. We prayed and sang as we rowed with all our might. The engine was as dead as we feared we might soon be. Neither of us spoke to the other, afraid our terror would melt our resolve if we acknowledged just how unsure we were that we would not make it through this moment alive.
“Man, that woman is crazy. No, no, that’s not the word. She is driven by some demonic power. Every elder in the room had the hair on the back of his neck stand up when she shifted into that strange and creepy voice. I’m not sure that most of them even believed this was possible until today. But they are all sure now. It was providential that you were not at the meeting tonight. We’ve got to protect you brother!
What’s inside that woman is out to get you and your family.” What had been a nightmare, what had been a fear, suddenly shifted into something more. The reality of the story is too much to tell, but for a time, absolute evil invaded our world and threatened everything. The ending of the story was tragic and shocking and terrifying.
“I’m sorry, but your baby boy has a blowout fracture of the eye orbital. We think he will be okay, but there is a possibility he could be blind in one eye or even brain damaged.” Not the thing you want to learn from one doctor about your one day old son while another doctor uses an instrument much larger than your tiny little boy to try to look into the back of his eyeball.
Terror makes your lips thin, your patience thinner, and your fragile grip on control hanging by a fragile thread. How could this happen with my first child? How can this be fair when my dad has fought all this time to see his first grandchild before he died? How are we going to survive this? How am I going to tell my wife who does not know how bad it is?
“Oh my, those are three nodules near your thyroid gland and close to your vocal cords. We are going to have to put you through some tests to see if this is what… well, uh…” the doctor hesitated to try to find the right words without alarming me, “well, uh… to rule out a malignancy.” Terror. I am too young with little kids to face this possibility— a career-ending, possibly life-ending, set of tumors in my throat. What am I going to do? How will I take care of my family? Will I even be here to take care of my family?
These are not theoretical stories. These aren’t exaggerated stories. These aren’t someone else’s stories. I know them all too well. These are my stories… stories of terror. Terror is something deeper than fear. Something profoundly humiliating because terror mocked my faith, sapped my strength, and immobilized my resolve.
Yet here’s the deal: we all will face these at least one of these four terrors at some point in our lives. Many of us will face them all in one way or another. These big four realities of our mortality are the reminders of our human limitations. They lurk in our world to remind us of our inability to control what could claim us. These are the “Big Four” primal fears that go with mortality. We desperately need an answer for them.
If we do not have an answer for them, then we have no answer for life’s biggest and most certain challenges.
Thankfully for those of us who follow Jesus, our Lord faced down these same four primal fears. He faced them in the presence of his disciples. He faced the “Big Four” for them and with them. Luke presents these confrontations with the “Big Four” in a series of closely timed events (Luke 8:21-56).
Deep: uncontrollable nature (Luke 8:22-25).
Jesus is with his closest followers in a boat when they face a terrifying storm. At first, Jesus is asleep. Then, when his experienced sailors dissolve in panic, they cry out to him. Jesus awakens, and with just a few words he stills the waves and silences the storm. Jesus speaks and all nature obeys. So in their fear, he speaks to their faith hoping they will listen and trust.
Demonic: unmanageable evil (Luke 8:26-39).
Jesus comes to help a man who terrifies everyone else because of the raging demons that control him. Everyone else has abandoned him to the place of death, a cemetery in a foreign land. Here, in a place unclean in every way for a Jewish religious teacher, Jesus chooses to come and claim a man back from hell. The Lord faces the raging forces of the demons and commands them with his words. In this battle of good and evil, Jesus’ followers are silent and unseen as he steps in and defeats evil and restores life.
Disease: incurable illness (Luke 8:43-46).
Jesus is in a large crowd. He is accessible to everyone, even an ostracized and unclean woman who is not supposed to be out in public. She approaches Jesus from behind, hoping that he will not mind if she gets close enough to touch him. Her problems have been incurable… debilitating and isolating. She muscles up her courage and does the unconscionable: she touches the holy hem of his garment. When Jesus calls attention to her actions, her terror shifts from never being healed to being caught for what she had done — an unclean person contaminating the Teacher. So Jesus pauses, not to rebuke her, but to praise her faith and stand with her in the crowd as the Messiah is willing to come close enough for the desperate and hopeless to touch.
Death: undeniable mortality (Luke 8:40-56).
Jesus comes to the house of a man whose child had been dying and has just recently passed. Mourners do their thing: mourning the horrid circumstances that took this little girl from her important family. Hope has shifted to despair because Jesus arrives too late to heal her. The terror of losing a beloved child is now a reality. So Jesus simply puts everyone out of the room, except for a few followers and the parents, then tenderly talks to the young girl and rouses her out of the sleep of death, leaving everyone in the group stunned and amazed.
What we learn from the Lord’s battle with the “Big Four” is simple and clear:
While we may face these times of trial — these realities of our mortality — Jesus can handle them. And one day, when the Father says it is time, what is broken with our world will pass away and the Lord will bring us into a place of safety where these things cannot touch us.
Unlike the temporary solution Jesus gave to his disciples in the boat, the unnamed man in the cemetery, the woman in the crowd, and the father gripped with grief, Jesus has given us a final, permanent, and eternal solution to these problems because he faced them here.
Until that time, we need to realize that we do not have a God who is far away. We have a Savior who is near.
Jesus will not abandon us in these moments, but accompany us through them! Sometimes, he will deliver us out of these events — miraculously, inexplicably, and blessedly. Sometimes, he will deliver us through them — they will be used to establish our character, deepen our faith, and usher us into his presence. Either way, there will never be a time when he is not with us, near us, in us, and for us.
No matter how alone we feel, he meets us in those moments so that we can make it to our ultimate destination and find life indeed.
I do not know what you may be facing right now. I do not know what storms rage in your life, what terrors greet you in the night, what uncertainties face you at the doctor’s office, or what concerns mock your plans. But this I do know: Jesus cares about them.
He will never abandon you or forsake you. If you are a child of God, he will never abandon you or forsake you. Most of all, Jesus can calm your storms, put you in your right mind, bring peace in the middle of your pain and isolation, and bring life in the face of your worst losses. Jesus said it this way:
[Jesus said] “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 6:33 NIV).