Following Christ Into the Night: A Reflection on the Fear of the Unknown

I often feel very alone when I think of the uncertainty of my future. Sometimes at night a sense of desolation follows me and shakes me awake before my morning alarm. I wake up with fears of insignificance, rejection, and isolation. My mind and heart say maybe your fears are real. Maybe you are truly alone.

My response to these fears is often rationalization–convincing myself through logical analysis that I’m not alone. I have a caring family, good friends, and challenging mentors. I have a community that makes the feeling of isolation ludicrous. Furthermore my mentors always bring me back to Scripture. They quote I will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.

What happens then? The lack of evidence for reasons to be in despair only invites it back into my mind and heart.  I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach; like I’m walking a tightrope and all the assuring voices point me to the safety nets below. But nothing prepares me for the fall.


I wonder if that same feeling was in the mind of Jesus’ disciples. I suspect it wasn’t easy following the God man. There must have been confusion, uncertainty, and perhaps despair that trailed them on the roads of Galilee and Judea. They lived with a man who spoke like the Torah and the prophets all at once; who pronounced woes and wept over cities; who killed fig trees and resurrected dead men; who pacified zealots and cleansed the Temple with a whip.

They followed a man who was seen, even by member of his own family, as insane, and he was scandalous in his association with prostitutes and Samaritans. They followed him with bread-and miracle-seeking crowds who would disown him in a moment.  The disciples were cut off with Jesus in his offences. They were left alone with his person.

I think about Jesus prophesying his death. Of all the hard words of Jesus, this might have seemed the most ridiculous and possibly the cruelest. They had followed Christ, had been associated and threatened with him, and now he says he will die by the hands of their leaders. To their minds the fear of the unknown might have been the unspeakable thought of life without him. They would be mistaken and condemned men, submerged in the wake of another false messiah. I want to say I would have thought and acted differently from the disciples, but they faced a fear that I can’t comprehend. If all I had was Jesus and he told me he was going to die, I don’t know if I would have listened to him either.

I follow Christ into the unknown, and I strategize like the disciples did. I can be passionate like Peter and make big promises, prioritize the reign of the Messiah, and zealously cut off ears. I enjoy the grad attempts at control in the face of Christ’s unsettling prophecies.

I’ve often read Peter’s denial of Christ as an act of self preservation—saving his own skin. But what if Peter was afraid of the implications of Jesus’ death more than the loss of his own life? If he was trying to save himself, why would he follow Christ into the midst of the enemy? It seems like Peter was trailing Jesus to spring him from the situation—he was thinking like a revolutionary. But the plan of saving him meant Peter had to deny his relationship with his friend and God.

I follow Jesus into darkness. He could tell me exactly what I need do, who I’ll be, and where I’ll go, but he just says “Follow me.” So, like Peter after Gethsemane, I often follow him to upset his plans. I garnish his commands with my own schemes because I rely on evidence. I deny him to save him. I weep bitterly.

I want to see God, but he is invisible. I want to consolidate and organize his ways, but they are mysterious. Why doesn’t he remove my fears of insignificance and of hurting others? Why is the imminent future so unknown? Why am I haunted by loneliness when he says he’ll never leave me? Why does he allow Satan to sift me like wheat?

My faith is small and capricious. There are days when the Son of God is revealed and I, like Peter, fervently spew “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” There are other days when I would trade his Name for his Kingdom, and still other days I would trade it for peace of mind.


After the resurrection, Peter and the disciples are faced again with Christ on the verge of leaving them. He comes to Peter and asks “Simon, son of John do you love me?” and Peter says “Lord you know everything, you know I love you.” And Jesus answers “Feed my sheep.”

It’s here, in the ashes of Peter’s denial, in the fallout of faithless doubt, and in face of the unknown that Christ lays the foundation of his Church.

I am the son of Peter; inheriting all of the bad habits and fears of my father.

I’m the son of Peter; redeemed and empowered by the Christ who brings life from death and revelation from the unknown.




For You And For Your Children

Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York has partnered with The Gospel Coalition to produce a new catechism for a new generation.  The New City Catechism is a blend of the best of the Reformation catechisms, most notably the Westminster Larger and Shorter catechisms and the Heidelberg Catechism.  The language of the questions and answers remains mostly unaltered from the originals, but this new catechism is shinier and, most notably, sleeker.

It is “shinier” because it is designed for the iPad (though there is also a version for normal web browsers), with each Q&A including not only a written commentary from a famous theologian of the past (Chrysostom, Augustin, Calvin, Spurgeon, Lewis, etc), but also a short video commentary from respected pastors and council members of TGC.  One of the great beauties of a catechism is that it’s question-answer format allows almost anyone to pick it up and begin learning the faith as if they had a teacher right along side them.  Expanding the simple questions and answers to include these supplemental expositions of key themes and doctrines greatly enhances this already practical feature of the catechism.

The video commentary from Q&A 1:

This new catechism is “sleeker” for two reasons.  First, it is a “joint” catechism for both children and adults.  Each question has a shorter child’s answer that is contained within the longer adult’s answer.  For example, question 1 is “What is our only hope in life and death?”  The two answers are:

Child: “That we are not our own but belong to God.”
Adult: “That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”

In this way there is a unity between the child’s catechism and the adult’s catechism.  Really, they are not even two catechisms.  As the child grows, their own answers simply grow into a more complete answer, rather than using different words to respond to different questions.

Second, there are only 52 questions, one for each Lord’s Day (that would be Sunday) of the year.  This is where I see a potential for criticism.  Some in the Reformed community are already mocking this new catechism.  While such mocking is mostly unwarranted, 52 questions is less than half the number of questions in the Westminster Shorter, which does beg us to question whether this catechism is ultimately a sorry, watered-down replacement for its predecessors.

My initial response is no, with one caveat.  Running quickly through all 52 questions, I didn’t notice any troubling gaps in doctrine, save that infant baptism is nowhere to be found.  This isn’t surprising, since TGC is a partnership between paedobaptists and credobaptists, but for those in Reformed and Presbyterian denominations this absence may serve to highlight the superiority of the old catechisms already in use.

And yet that may be the point.  Since those denominations still use the Westminster and Heidelberg, this new catechism is not really designed for them, rather it is designed for those broadly “Reformed” churches who identify with organizations like TGC, but who do not already have a built-in structure of catechesis.  I certainly wouldn’t use the new catechism to replace the Heidelberg or Westminster in my own classroom, but I would gladly make use of it as a supplement.

In the end, the New City Catechism is a wonderful way to help the modern evangelical church back to the ancient and indispensible practice of catechesis.  I will leave you with Pastor Keller’s excellent summary:

 At present, the practice of catechesis, particularly among adults, has been almost completely lost. Modern discipleship programs concentrate on practices such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism and can at times be superficial when it comes to doctrine. In contrast, the classic catechisms take students through the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer—a perfect balance of biblical theology, practical ethics, and spiritual experience. Also, the catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts deeper into the heart and naturally holds students more accountable to master the material than do typical discipleship courses. Finally, the practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning.

In short, catechetical instruction is less individualistic and more communal. Parents can catechize their children. Church leaders can catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. Because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be integrated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise.

One last thing, to The Gospel Coalition:  I do not have an iPad, so please release an android version soon.  Thanks!