In 1 John 4 we are told God is love. Not that God is loving, or loves to love, or is nice, caring and so on, but that God is love. Love is not so much a characteristic, quality, or aspect of God, as it is God’s ontological nature—the very core of God’s being/existence.
We are also told in chapter 4 that “those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.” And there are many ways people try to say they love God, without coming right out and saying it. They hope it’s implied. They try to say it in their moral and ethical assertions, piety, and theological assertions.
When we hear people say they want more morality in culture and media, prayer in schools, and laws passed that uphold their view of what they believe the Bible teaches, what they are often trying to communicate at the same time, is: I love God. When we hear people say how often they go to church, pray, tithe, read their Bibles, and tell others about their faith, what they are often trying to communicate at the same time, is: I love God.
However, none of those assertions regarding morality, culture, law, theology, or certain habits or actions tell us much about one’s love for God. We could do all those things and still hate others. And if we hate others, we are told we can’t assert, at the same time, we love God. If we do, we are liars. Thus, God is love and we cannot mirror that love, while hating others, regardless what else we might do or believe.
In the same chapter we read that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment…” In God there is no fear and the passage goes on to suggest that as we learn more and more to love as God does, we too begin to operate less and less out of fear. It would seem that love and fear are diametrically opposed. Where one dwells, the other cannot.
I would suggest that those Christians who believe their love for God is shown in their being opposed to declining moral or family values, their theology, their political leanings and choices, or their habits of church attendance and piety might be operating more out of fear rather than love.
Here are three areas I believe demonstrate the possibility we might be operating more out of fear rather than love:
In our eschatology: If our eschatology leads us to buy buckets of food and claim that half of America “hates Jesus,” we might be operating more out of fear than love. If our eschatology leads us to buy more guns and build more walls, we might be operating more out of fear than love. If our eschatology leads us to imagine every major news event, natural disaster, or violence caused by humans is an indicator of some divine time-table, we might be operating more out of fear than love.
In our political motivations: If we vote for people who tell us they are going to protect God, Christianity, being able to say, “Merry Christmas,” and 1950s family values, we might be operating more out of fear than love. If we vote for people who tell us they are going to protect us from atheists, Muslims, immigrants, and gay people, we might be operating more out of fear than love. If we vote for people who stress law-and-order and strong borders over and above human kindness and generosity, we might be operating more out of fear than love.
If a Christian wants to learn more about themselves, always an uneasy prospect to be sure, he or she might begin by asking where their motivation, thinking, believing, acting, and living, is coming from. Love, or fear.
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