How Perfect Fear Casts Out Love

How Perfect Fear Casts Out Love May 31, 2021

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For about 2 years now I have been working with groups of people who are Deconstructing their faith on a weekly basis. When I started Square 1, the goal was to provide resources, community and practical assistance to people moving through the painful process of questioning their beliefs while enduring rejection from their family and friends who remain in the religious system.

After listening to dozens of people share their stories, I’ve started to realize something: It’s worse than I thought.

My own Deconstruction process was painful. Everyone suffers the loss of fellowship, friendships and sometimes even close family members as they navigate this path. That’s one reason why it hurts so much.

But in these last few weeks, I’ve heard some stories that have made me realize that the suffering and the damage caused by toxic Christianity is so much more destructive and dangerous than I ever imagined.

Just a few days ago, one woman in our current round of Square 1 shared something with us that shook me. She said:

“When I was deep into my reformed days, a young momma, homeschooling my four kiddos, and really wanting to glorify God with my life… I remember learning that we need to be like Abraham, willing to put our children on the altar, making sure we never love them more than we love God. Maybe this is why my mental health took a turn? I adored our children, and the love I had for each one of them scared me to death. What if I loved them too much?? Surely, I do. And because of this, God will strip them away from me and it will be for my good and his glory. This mental gymnastics nearly wrecked me. I see now how crazy it all was. God was actually in my children… my loving them with everything I had actually meant I was loving him. Why does everything get so twisted? And why do these thoughts still come back to haunt me? I’m thinking the rewiring your brain [session] will be helpful.”
In reply to this comment, another woman also shared this:
“I can relate…We were taught not to become passionate or love something or someone way too much because it becomes an idol and God will take it away from us. Maybe God wants us to find joy in loving others.”

And in reply another woman said:

“I felt so guilty for loving my husband that my twisted brain said God punished me when he left without warning, because I had cherished the relationship so much. My fear that God would also take away my daughter led me to a daily existence of praying for forgiveness.
Now, 6 years later, I am able to explain as being what you said “Loving them with everything I had actually meant I was loving him”.
The other evening I was sharing with my daughter my belief that my love for her helps me understand God’s love for me. I love her (and loved ex) unconditionally! This is how God loves me! (And you) What a gift.  Thanks for sharing.”

And then one other person replied:

“I can so relate. I remember in the 80s church members calling parents’ genuine love and adoration for their children “idolatry”. I honestly think that kind of pure, unfiltered love is so threatening that it’s hard for some of us to see it demonstrated, human to human, and certainly so threatening to actually believe it is true in our relationship with God. I mean, come on, something that good can’t be from God! I jest, but sadly, it really is true.”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear these testimonies I get a little angry. This theology of fear is twisting parents and spouses into people who are afraid to love one another, or their children, the way God intended.
In one of our recent Zoom conversations, the first woman also shared how she used to tell her children they didn’t deserve good things like ice cream or trips to the amusement park because what they really deserved was to suffer eternal torment in hell. She thought she was sharing the “Good News” with them. She believed her children would be better Christians if they embraced this way of thinking. Later, once she started to have her eyes opened to how manipulative and controlling and toxic this theology was, she could see it for what it was: Emotional and Spiritual abuse.
You might be tempted to think, “Oh, this woman must have been in some sort of cult,” but you’d be wrong. She was an active member in the leadership team of a prominent national worship ministry and a trusted leader in her Reformed Christian Church community.
Or, maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe what we need to admit is that our “normal” mainline Evangelical Christian churches ARE cults that emotionally abuse and spiritually corrupt people to the point where they are afraid to love their own children or their own spouse.
In 1 John 4:18 we read that “Perfect love casts out all fear” but the opposite is also true – “Perfect fear casts out all love” – and the more I hear stories and testimonies from people like this, the more convinced I am that this “Perfect Fear” is a synonym for Evangelical Christianity.

All of this makes me want to create some sort of “Spiritual Abuse Survey” where people can answer a series of questions to find out if they are victims of this sort of Christian abuse.

Maybe some of the questions could look like this:

  • Can you freely question your pastor’s sermon without fear of being labeled a heretic or branded a troublemaker?
  • Have you ever told your children – or anyone else’s child – that they are wretched worms who only deserve to be burned alive for eternity?
  • Are you afraid to listen to your own inner voice because you believe your heart is deceitfully wicked and there’s nothing good in you?
  • When good things happen to you do you immediately begin to fear that God will soon take those blessings away from you because you don’t deserve it?
It might also include questions about your health. I’ve been seriously amazed how many people in the Square 1 community suffer from TMJ, or sleep disorders, or high blood pressure. Proving that this sort of toxic theology can manifest in our physical bodies and even lead us to require medical attention to relieve the effects of such intense fear and stress.
For the record, God delights in you. God loves you. Why? Because God IS love and because you were made in the image of a God who is Love.
Remember:
“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]
Let go of that toxic fear. Embrace the endless, limitless, transcendent love of God that is higher, and wider, and longer and deeper than anything you could ever possibly imagine.
Do not fear to be loved. Receive it.
Do not fear to love others. It’s the one “New Command” that Jesus gave everyone – “Love one another as I have loved you”
Just stop and think about all the ways that Jesus has loved you. Make a list. Take time to let that love wash over you and into you and through you.
And then, as you wipe away those tears of joy and gratitude, go ahead and start loving everyone around you with that same extravagant, unfettered, audacious love of Christ.
Don’t allow anyone to steal your joy by convincing you to fear being loved, or to fear loving others.
As the Apostle Paul once said:
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” [Galatians 5:6]
Now, go and love without fear.
**

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Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX.  Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of the best-selling “Jesus Un” series of books, including “Jesus Unforsaken: Substituting Divine Wrath With Unrelenting Love” which is available now on Amazon.

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