Check out any news website. How many of the stories use fear as a hook?
– Something sinister is in our food!
– Vaccines cause autism!
– A meteor will strike the Earth!
The message is loud-and-clear: Be very, very scared.
The problem with fear is that it destroys relationships. The first ruptured relationship was between humans and our Creator. Genesis 3 tells the story of God’s search for Adam in the garden. God asked: “Where are you?” Adam and Eve were hiding, and Adam answered:
“I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”
Their sin – disobedience to God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – produced fear. Fear in-turn led them to flee from God. Hiding symbolizes estrangement, absence of relationship.
Yet fear wreaks havoc not only on our relationship with God. It also prevents deep relationships with others. Some years ago, we spoke of our missionary work at a church located in a U.S. town where historically there has been high tension between blacks and whites. After the service, the pastor gave us directions back home.
“Make sure,” he said, “that you don’t turn right heading out of the parking lot. That will take you through a bad section of town.”
Once the pastor had gone, rebels that we are, we climbed in the car, pulled out of the parking lot and turned right. We soon found a chicken restaurant and had some dinner. Sure, we were the only white customers in the establishment; it mattered not one bit. The employees treated us kindly and with respect and the other customers smiled at us. There was no fear; we were welcome. The well-meaning pastor had given us fear-based directions. Instead, we chose otherwise and enjoyed a pleasant and safe dinner. In a way, I pitied the pastor. What relationships was he missing out on in that town because he could not get past the fear factor, a fear based upon the superficial characteristic of skin color?
The apostle John gives the remedy for the fear factor. It’s the love factor:
“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, NIV).
Paul writes: “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13b). Service is the incubator in which love can grow. You may fear the homeless and want to walk past them, holding your wallet a bit tighter. But something happens when you volunteer at the rescue mission and find out that it’s not just “the homeless.” It’s George and Susan and Ralph and – suddenly – you begin to care.
Perfect love casts out fear.
“Religion of hate” is another popular phrase that instills fear. It allows us to “other” an entire swath of the Earth’s population, to write them off as infected with what can come across as a dangerous form of belief. But what happens when stereotypes are subjected to new information? “Aalim” (not his name) sat next to me on the plane. He was traveling home with some other high school students, checking out universities where he might attend. He told me that he liked the Oklahoma City Thunder (a city where I’ve lived before) and loved playing basketball. We talked about Kevin Durant and his amazing skills on the court. By the end of the flight, Aalim was no longer a faceless individual in a group. He was just a regular teenager, a basketball fan, an aspiring architect. Yes, I know what I’m told to think about “them.” It’s the same fear-based thinking that told me not to drive through “the bad part of town,” but how can I fear someone like Aalim when I get to know him even a little?
Perfect love casts out fear.
I’m part of the Wesleyan-Holiness stream of Christianity. We pride ourselves on the “optimism of grace,” a belief that God can do amazing things in the human heart, transforming our lives and making us like Jesus, filling us with love for God and neighbor. But when it comes to our knee-jerk response to current events, sometimes I wonder:
Do we have spiritual dyslexia? Is perfect fear driving out our love?
Do divisions in our families, communities and nation persist because we have allowed ourselves to be overcome by fear instead of getting down on our knees and giving our fears to God, serving the very ones we fear and thereby dispelling fear with love? What unquestioned prejudices passed down allow us with impunity to “other” our neighbors, building walls instead of bridges?
Fellow follower of Jesus, perfect love still drives out fear. Isn’t it high time we get beyond the fear factor?
Image credit: Northern Sun