When Reinhold Niebuhr wrote glowingly in his diary about small churches in rural communities he admitted that some are “small and mean.” He had in mind the church I was serving. Although it has been nearly 20 years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday. For three years I went to bed every night with knots in my stomach.
At the heart of the salvation doctrine is the proclamation that our lives and our deaths are in God’s hand; we are loved of God not by our own merit but by God’s gracious initiative toward us. We need not spend our lives in good works in order to be saved but only in grateful response to being so loved.
The pharoah ordered his Eqyptian supervisors to make the Israelites’ lives “bitter with hard service.” Yet the more the Israelites were oppressed, “the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad.”
"Fear,” writes Karl Barth, “is the anticipation of a supposedly certain defeat.” Fear describes Joseph’s brothers, who fear and hate their brother’s favored status. Fear strikes the hearts of Jesus’ disciples when they see him walking toward them on the water.