There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. — 1 John 4:18
Where do you find fear in your thinking and actions? Those are the places we must set our sights to discover and where we must focus our spiritual efforts to heal, since we will not be able to truly think or act with love in those spaces. Real love, whether at a personal level in a relationship with your significant other or a family member, or whether at a social level as in the love of neighbor Jesus points to as the highest commandment, the presence of fear indicates an absence of love. It indicates a lack of authenticity in whatever is being substituted or offered up as a tricky look-alike for love. It raises a red flag that we need to take a closer look, and indicates that love is not in fact what we are dealing with in that moment, whether we feel we are giving it or believe we are receiving it. And most of us have been taught to fall for the tricks, to accept the substitutes and move on. Many of us have also gotten away with giving the look-alike away in spades for most of our lives. But even as we are going through the motions, we are not living in love, and we reap the repercussions, perpetuate the negative cycles, often without understanding why. But must we live like that?
The first step is to simply realize and accept that fear and love cannot coexist, because pure love by nature does not allow or involve even the tiniest fraction of fear. Then we can begin to practice deciding how we will behave accordingly, and what we will accept from others. Just a pin-prick of fear demotes love from true and real to a lower form of experience that is no longer completely genuine. After all, love – contrary to popular description – is actually not an emotion or feeling…those are unreliable, fleeting and conditional. Love actually is an intention, an interaction, an experience that is both generated and accepted in a spirit of freedom, acceptance and well-being. It must come from a place of freedom and land in a place of freedom. If it comes from a place of selfish motivation or manipulation, it is not love. Likewise, if it meets with a hardened heart bound in anxiety and pain, love often cannot be recognized or accepted. Our internal fears, or the fears imposed upon us from the outside, make it impossible to fully integrate the love that is available to us into our own experience, into our hearts and lives.
The one universal description of God is that God is love. God IS love. And love IS God. Thus God is also an intention, an interaction, an experience that is pure, authentic, life-giving, freedom-granting, in the same way that Jesus introduced his ministry by announcing: “the Spirit of God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to to proclaim good news to the poor. [God] has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” God does not cause fear, intend fear, impose fear, or accept fear. Rather, God releases us, proclaims freedom for us, heals our broken hearts. For there is no fear in real love. And there is no love in fear.
There are so many applications for this. But I thought of this last week when I heard reactions from some Christian religious organizations and leaders who were angered and disappointed at the Supreme Court’s rulings that overturned Proposition 8 in California and secured federal benefits for same-sex couples who are legally married in applicable states. In their dissent, the first thing was fear. Their arguments against homosexual couples having equal protection under the law were all fear-based. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, among others, were on the airwaves minutes after the decision was announced, and up front in their reaction was fear. Fear that heterosexual marriage would now be marginalized, that their particular ‘parental rights’ to what children are taught in public school would be taken away, that their particular version of ‘religious freedom’ would be taken away. Fearful leaders expressed fear that ‘they who perpetuate the species by procreating’ (never mind that our exceedingly high global population is already unsupportable and at risk, and there are hundreds of millions of orphans in the world) would be somehow cut off from being able to continue procreating, that heterosexual couples would be bullied, and heterosexual marriage would be diminished or even become extinct.
When the group who has wielded (and often misused) unmitigated majority power for centuries reacts to a beleaguered minority group finally receiving one victory toward equal protection under the law by putting their outlandish, unfounded, improbable concern for their own power position first, you know a paranoid, selfish, controlling fear is at work. They irrationally fear the tables will somehow be completely turned and they will be forced to endure the same unfair and demeaning treatment they have imposed upon others for so long, a very hypocritical reaction that belies the generous love of God, if that is indeed who they truly believe is in charge of their future. Fear-based Christianity lacks an important ingredient: God (as we have established God is love, and there is no fear in love). Fear-based Christian principles are not true; fear-based Christian doctrine and rhetoric is deceptive, un-faithful and designed for nothing but oppressive control. It seems sometimes Christians are the ones most unable to handle God’s perfect love, or to reflect and practice it.
Fear causes suppression and oppression. Fear causes discrimination and slavery and abuse. Fear causes powerful people to believe others cannot have equal rights because it will somehow threaten theirs. Fear causes gay people to get murdered on the street for being gay. Fear causes death and destruction. Fear causes people to not want freedom or well-being for one another, and disables people from lifting others up to an even footing of rights and respect with everyone else. That’s just one example of why there is no fear in love. And why only perfect love casts out fear. Let’s hold public people and organizations who claim to be Godly to the interchangeable and equal standard of love, lest fear keep delivering death-blows in the name of Christianity and other religions.
And let’s commit ourselves to peering into those dark corners in our own hearts. Where do we harbor fear that harms others and ourselves, and how can we use the promise of our faith to release ourselves from it? And by what faith can we love ourselves into loving others? After all, the first place to practice a love that casts out fear is with ourselves.