There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 1 John 4:18 (Amplified)
For some time now God has been helping me to see the pervasive, destructive power of fear at work in our world, and too often, at work in me. I would say that fear is the most marketable commodity being traded “over the counter” in our world today. If it could be listed on the stock exchange it would be every broker’s “tip of the day.” We purchase security systems and handguns, are encouraged to vote for or against candidates, stay stuck in ruts, and hide from those who are often trying to love us, out of sheer submission to fear.
Fear is such an invasive force that it makes its way into every crook and crevice of our day-to-day lives. The Church is not immune or exempt. There are people who will tell you that if you have fear, or live in fear, you risk the rejection, or at least the Divine disappointment, of God. They use fear as a club to shame and bludgeon spiritually, or they promise the magic formula to make fear dissipate, or stay away. “Just buy my book, quote these scriptures, listen to my podcast, read my daily blog, join us next month for our worship series on “Four Steps To Conquering Fear……”. Do I need to name any more?
I haven’t counted, but there are those who say the phrases “fear not” or “be not afraid” can be found in Scriptures at least 365 times – That’s one for every day of the year. Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator, says: “The opposite of love is not, as we many times or almost always think, hatred, but the fear to love, and fear to love is the fear of being free.”
The truth is, we may be mixing up “fear” with “anxiety”. Fear keeps us from walking across an interstate highway at noon with our eyes closed. It keeps our hands away from the red glow on the stove top, and the iron we see resting, but plugged into the outlet. It keeps me out of packed auditoriums and stadiums at the moment. It causes me to ask myself regularly if I’m thinking about those around me more than I think about myself. Truth is, sometimes fear prevents me from being as foolish as I have proven to myself and others I have the capacity to be.
But anxiety is based on the unknown, what we cannot nail down and be certain about – what we can imagine but do not (yet) see. As one leader recently noted to a gathering I was attending (online) “Fundamentalism is on the rise all over the world – in almost every culture. It likes for things to be solid and nailed down – predictable. The only problem is, our world is anything but solid and nailed down or predictable at the moment.” But isn’t that the way the world has always been? Life in this world has a way of making us feel out of control. Maybe it’s because we really aren’t in control. But most of us desperately want to be.
Into this world – past and present – God speaks the words: “Fear not.” It’s not so much a command as it is a word of hope. The Psalmist, knowing God’s watchful care and guiding hand, said it this way: “I will fear no evil for You are with me.” To shepherds working the night shift the angel declares, “Do not be afraid – I am bringing good news of great joy for all,…” To a circle of friends whose ship seems destined to take them to the bottom of the deep dark sea, Jesus asks: “Why are you afraid?” In other words: (why are are you paralyzed by – worshipping at the altar of – fear? ) Do you not know who is with you in the boat? Jesus speaks into the storm and into their fear: “Peace! Be still! “ Some have noted that Jesus may have been speaking these words to his friends more than to the storm.
The good news for us is that fear and anxiety do not have the last word – Jesus does. Someone defined his power in this way, “The best news this world can hear – is the news that a Spirit – not of this world – can be infused into human life – even the most hopeless human life – and the person who opens herself/himself to the same Spirit witnessed in Jesus Christ, can expect to become a new creature.” That is the sweet sound of God’s all-encompassing love, and reason enough to trust that, in love, God can speak the same living word to us. After all, “fully-developed love expels every particle of fear,…” 1 John 4:18 (J.B. Phillips – New Testament)
Jon (the Methodist)
If you would like to view past editions of How Sweet the Sound, follow this link: https://sounddistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/