I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. Fear. FEAR. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic. Who knows? But I’m convinced that we’re walking around with a whole lot more fear than we’re aware of – and that it’s doing a whole lot more harm than we might imagine.
Please let me explain. Sometimes our fears express themselves in obvious ways: I don’t like snakes, so I break out in a sweat when I see a copperhead on my driveway! Obvious. At other times, however, our fears are more subtle. The signs of fear aren’t as clear. Perhaps I’m fearing an upcoming appointment with a doctor, but I find myself angrily snapping at one of my kids. Not quite as obviously fear, but fear nonetheless, which I can discern if I’ll allow myself the time and energy to process the real source of what seems – at surface level – more like impatience or irritation.
Sometimes fear expresses itself as obsessive talking or some form of compulsive ritualistic behavior. If I put all my energy into arranging and rearranging the books on my shelf, that can feel like a medicine which soothes – temporarily at least – my fear of some life situation over which I have absolutely no control at all. What I’m saying is that we don’t always know when we’re afraid, and certainly not the extent of our fear in the moment.
In our Christian circles, and I see this more and more in these days of COVID-19, people speak of “faith” as being the antidote to fear. I know what they mean by that: we must trust God with every dimension of our lives, and not succumb to the false notion that we can create some kind of reality which is devoid of all risk. Of course that’s true, but I’d like to offer a slight course correction if I may. Faith is not the antidote to fear, but love is. Love is the antidote to fear. I believe that with everything in me.
On this point, I’d like to beckon the matchless wisdom of the Scriptures. Specifically, I find First John 4:18 to be highly instructive for my own heart, and perhaps it will strike a chord with you: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
I hope that I can make sense of what I want to express by way of this statement because I really think this matters: any love that doesn’t come from God eventually breeds anxiety. Where divine love isn’t, fear is. You see, friends, human love demands human meriting. You and I are kind of hardwired that way. We’re generally comfortable with the idea of earning, and we’re generally nervous about the idea of freely receiving. That’s why understanding grace isn’t natural for us: only the Spirit of Christ can open our eyes to comprehend the free grace of Jesus! Until we really grasp the good news of the gospel, all we can experience is imperfect love. Even our best-intentioned friends and family members love us imperfectly. And how do we love others? Let’s be honest: unbelievably imperfectly! We’re entirely human after all.
Only the God who knows us fully can love us with a love that is truly unconditional! Let that sink in.
And it’s that love, and that love only, which casts out fear. That’s what the Bible means by “perfect love.”
While we’re rolling along here, I’d like to expand our horizons. Fear never travels alone. In fact, Fear has some relentlessly stubborn companions. I don’t have to introduce you to Failure, Freaked, and Frozen, because you’re already well acquainted. You and I have some God-given healthy fears, of course, but we’re also dogged by some nasty fears which always try to run the show. We need love. We need the gospel. We need Jesus.
With your blessing, I’d like to further unpack some of these themes in my next few blog postings. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of the angel who spoke peace to those frightened shepherds near Bethlehem: “FEAR NOT!”