“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied…”
The train jolted at the turn, pulling all of its passengers like a slingshot to the left. Their bodies moved first, their heads helplessly following. Some unfortunate passengers, who happened to be out of their seats at that exact moment, struggled to stay on their feet, grabbing at the seats, armrests or handrails. One lady had been returning to her seat with a fresh cup of hot coffee, letting out a curse as the hot liquid spilled onto her arm and the floor below.
As the train straightened out, everyone looked about with confusion and consternation. The Boy listened to his parents talking in the seats across from him.
“Is something wrong with this engineer? The last few minutes, it is as if he has fallen asleep at the wheel!”
Similar phrases of frustration and annoyance could be heard throughout the passenger car as everyone composed themselves. The Boy looked out the window, watching as the trees passed him by. He had noticed that the trees seemed to be moving more and more quickly. Though he hadn’t said anything to his parents yet, the increasing speed made him nervous, and he felt like he was getting sick to his stomach. Something just didn’t feel right. He couldn’t even make out the form of one tree now! It was as if he was looking out at one long, blurry line of green.
Suddenly, the attention of everyone in the car was drawn to the front sliding door. They could hear shouting, or was it crying, just on the other side? The door to their car then opened, and the conductor hurriedly entered, the one who had stamped their tickets a few hours earlier. The Boy remembered him because this conductor had given him a piece of caramel candy. The taste of that candy still lingered on The Boy’s tongue, as he had allowed that morsel of goodness to melt in his mouth ever so slowly.
This time, though, The Boy noticed that the conductor did not look pleasant; he looked disheveled and upset. His face was red, his hat was crooked on his head, and his shirt was half untucked. Sweat dripped from his brow.
“Please, everyone. Take your seats, and try to stay calm.” He waved with his hands, and his eyes had a wild look about them, giving away the fear he was feeling even as he tried to convey a message that everything was alright. He took a deep breath to steady himself, and his voice cracked when he continued to speak. “The brakes…they’re out on the train. We’ve been trying to stop for the last ten minutes, but it has been futile. We've applied the emergency brakes, and they’ve slowed us for a bit, or at least prevented us from speeding up even more. But at this time, the weight of the train and our speed on the tracks is too much even for them. Please, you must stay seated,” the conductor addressed a man who had risen from his seat to move across the aisle to his wife.
The small passenger car filled with hurried whispers. The conductor lifted his hands as if to settle the group, and he continued to address everyone, mustering a voice of power and control, struggling to offer comfort to a group of uneasy people: “Please, listen. It’s going to be alright. We have notified emergency personnel, and their crews are working tirelessly to find a solution. It may be an uncomfortable ride, but we will have a plan by the time we reach the bridge at the foot of the mountain. I don’t have time for questions, but I will return later when I have more news. Everyone, stay in your seats!”
As the conductor finished his speech and hurried to the next passenger car, frantic words and nervous murmurs swirled around The Boy. He watched his mother comfort his younger sister, who had begun to cry. She was much too young to understand, but she sensed the fear in the room. A young couple across the aisle clung to one another nervously. The Boy looked out the window again. He could feel the speed of the train increasing, and suddenly, everyone jolted to the right. This time, panicked screams erupted from the passengers.
The Boy slid his hand into his pocket and rubbed his thumb across the worn medal. Grandfather had given it to him on their last visit, a medal he had received because of his acts of bravery in the war. It had been the last time he would see his Grandfather before the heart attack that took his life. Grandfather had told The Boy that this medal was to always remind him of his heritage.
“Son, the bravery I showed in that battle was not because I wasn’t afraid; I was terrified. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but bravery in spite of our fear. My strength came from the Lord, and you have been given this same heritage, my boy. There will be times in life when you face insurmountable circumstances. When you are afraid, call on God. He will be your refuge and strength.”
The Boy’s heart pounded wildly in his chest, and he felt the fear of an uncertain situation. At the time Grandfather had told this to The Boy, he did not really understand the precious gift of his heritage. It wasn’t until recently that The Boy had truly grasped the power of God in his life. As he continued to rub the medal with his thumb, The Boy allowed his mind to wander to that sunny morning at church.
Bright sunlight poured in through the window, and it felt stuffy inside the crowded Sunday school room. He and his friends had been playing a spirited game of “rock, paper, scissors” until his teacher called for all of the boys to take their seats. It took a few moments of shushing and reprimanding before Mr. Andrews finally had the attention of his students.
“Who remembers what we spoke on last week, boys?”
Jeremy piped up from The Boy’s left, “Wisdom and foolishness!” The Boy grimaced. He had known the answer, too, but know-it-all Jeremy never left a chance for others to answer.
“Thank you, Jeremy. Yes, we spoke on wisdom and foolishness. These two voices call us at every moment of the day. Your decision, boys, on which voice you listen to will determine the course of your lives. Your steps matter. Are they steps in wisdom, or steps in foolishness?”
The teacher let his introductory question hang in the air for just a moment before proceeding. “Today, the next stop on our journey of understanding wisdom and foolishness is, oddly enough, the topic of fear. Young men, what are some of your fears?”
Different boys shouted out their fears…the dark, burglars, spiders. Jake, always the jokester, shouted out that he feared girls, and laughter erupted from the group of boys. As the room quieted some, The Boy decided to speak his answer.
“Death,” said The Boy. The silly moment passed quickly, and the room grew silent as all eyes turned toward him. The Boy’s cheeks warmed with the unwanted attention, and he locked eyes with Mr. Andrews.
“Ah, yes. You speak to the heart of the issue, for physical death will come to us all at one point or another. Most people in this world fear death. But you see, God’s wisdom is our answer. Turn in your Bibles to Proverbs 14. We will be reading verses 26 and 27. Nick, will you read for us?”
Nick turned in his Bible and, once he found his place, pointed his finger onto the page and began to read:
“In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.”
Nick finished reading, then quietly set his Bible aside. The Boy’s heart pounded as he listened to Mr. Andrews speak.
“Boys, there is something more fearful than physical death. God’s wisdom teaches us that the only One truly worthy of our fear is the Lord. A.W. Tozer once said this: ‘The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid — that is the paradox of faith.’”
Mr. Andrews paused for a moment, letting the words sink in. “It is at that moment when we realize our great sinfulness and His perfect holiness that we will know our fears are rightly placed. We tremble with fear when we realize how rebellious and sinful we are before a holy God. But as Mr. Tozer points out, when we recognize in fear and trembling the greatness of our holy and powerful God, His goodness then shines through, melting away our fears. We have no reason to fear any longer, not because of anything good in us, but because of Jesus. Jesus has made a way to make us right before God.”
Some boys shuffled silently in their seats, uncomfortable with the serious tone of the moment. But The Boy…he had listened with rapt attention. For the first time in his entire life, everything was making sense. For the first time, The Boy realized his own sinfulness and how it fit into the picture, wrecking his life and making a mess of things. All the pieces were coming together to form a clear understanding of Truth. Mr. Andrews had continued:
“Listen guys, our world is barreling out of control…” Mr. Andrews paused and shook his head, struggling to find an analogy, “…like a train with no brakes! We cannot stop the destruction ahead of us, but that is not our job, either. We must tell others of the salvation Jesus offers! Physical death will come to all, but that is not what we should fear. The death of our souls, if we should stand condemned before a Holy God…that is greatly to be feared.”
The Boy stayed after class that morning, talking with Mr. Andrews about his desire to become a Christian. He had heard of these things his entire life, but it wasn’t until that morning that it all made sense. His heart had soared with new understanding.
A wail of terror from behind him pulled The Boy from his daydream, and he remembered once more the immediate danger he was in. The Boy shivered with the irony of Mr. Andrews’ analogy, which now mirrored the real life crisis he faced. Suddenly, the passenger car door flew open, and the disheveled conductor clamored back inside with tears pouring down his face.
“The bridge! It’s out!!! No brakes…no bridge… We’re doomed!” He shouted the news, abandoning any professional composure he had struggled to portray earlier. Gasps and wails erupted from the passengers around The Boy. The conductor wept as he passed through the car, shaking his head. “Prepare yourselves. Say your goodbyes.”
As if on cue, the train lurched again as it continued to pick up speed, tossing the Conductor to the side as he struggled to exit the car. The Boy looked to his right to see one man reach under his seat to retrieve his briefcase. He clutched it with a grip that turned his knuckles white. “Buckle in and brace yourselves!” shouted The Man desperately, spit flying from his mouth. “If we can only survive the impact…that is our only hope!”
The young couple across from The Man clung to each other as they whispered into each others’ ears, weeping. The Boy’s mother and father held hands tightly and reached out to hold his hands, too. “Don’t be afraid, son,” said his father. His mother kissed fervently on his young sister’s forehead. She then pulled his hand close to kiss it, as well. His sister sucked her thumb vigorously, and silent tears streamed down her face. She was comforted only by her mother’s presence.
The Boy looked out the window once more as he thought through The Man’s words. A sense of calm fell over him, and The Name escaped his mouth with a conviction that was unnatural.
“Jesus!” He shouted. His parents looked at him, first with confusion, then with great understanding.
The Boy shook his head and continued with resolve, “Dad, our only hope does not rest in surviving the impact. Our only hope is Jesus! Death is not to be feared, but God. We must tell the others!”
Little did The Boy know, but he possessed the greatest of wisdom that day.
His parents smiled in spite of their situation. His mother spoke first. “My precious son...you're right. Let’s go.”
The Boy’s father unbuckled himself, and he passionately addressed his wife, son, and daughter: “We must do the work we have in whatever amount of time we are given.” The Boy and his mother unbuckled and stood with great effort, spreading out to talk to their fellow passengers.
The end of our tale is both tragic and miraculous. Just as the train was rounding the bend to a perilous ending, its speed was just enough that, instead of flying off an outed bridge and crashing into a gorge below, the train derailed near the foot of the mountain. Most of the passengers died that day, but one survived, a one lone passenger from The Boy’s car.
After weeks of a medicated coma, risky but necessary surgeries, and injuries that threatened to take his life at any given moment, The Man finally awakened. His beat-up briefcase had been kept by his bedside the entire time, and when he saw it with blurry eyes, he was ashamed that this was what he had clung to in those last moments. It wasn’t until he had stared death in the face that he realized what was of value in life, and what was not.
The Man’s story of those final moments shook the world. He told of how The Boy’s family heroically spread the Gospel to a group of desperately hopeless people. Because of their bravery, that group of passengers did not die hopeless that day.
The Man described their final moments as being filled with the sound of metal grating against itself. The Boy was the last to address the group before their fiery crash. His final words were engraved in the mind of The Man forever. As the train neared its final resting place and everyone was helplessly being tossed about in their seats, The Boy stood in front, clinging to the handrails to maintain his stance, and shouted above the noise with a look of peace on his face:
“I know this feels scary, but there is One who wipes away our fears! 1 John 4:18 tells us, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’ We may all physically die today, but Jesus is the giver of life. You think this is the end, but it is only the beginning! Our moments on earth might be ending, but there is still time. Repent of your sins, call on Jesus, and find in Him life that endures!”
...come back next week for another chapter of our story...