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Fear Never Gives Birth to Love

I’m in the middle of a pretty busy stretch right now, so the posts will probably be a bit thinner than usual over the next little while. I did, however, want to throw up a brief reflection on fear and love. This past weekend I spoke at a young adults retreat out in the mountains. In the sessions, I reflected on what it means to be “set apart” for Jesus and, more specifically, what it is that ought to set us apart as Christians. I tried to make the case that it is not the correctness of our theology or the devotion we have for Scripture or our ethics or any of the other things that we scramble to do or think to secure our own salvation, but our capacity for and willingness to give and receive love.

Love can be a surprisingly tough sell.  In a number of sessions, I noticed an undercurrent of fear behind many of the questions that were being asked. Fear of getting it wrong, fear of failing to give non-Christians the “right information” when discussing faith, fear of being on the wrong side of theological controversies, fear of apparently harsh passages in Scripture, fear of hell, of being on the outside looking in, of not measuring up. Fear, fear, fear.

On the last session of the weekend, we spent some time in 1 John 4, one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture. Near the end of this passage,

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  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.

It strikes me as more than a little ironic that Christians have so often adopted general postures toward the world that are fear-based rather than love-based. What, I wonder, does this say about the status of our “being made perfect,” our “like Jesus-ness,” our “completeness?” Would it be too much of a stretch to say that the existence of followers of Jesus who consistently allow fear to dictate our responses and reactions to complex social, theological, political, hermeneutical realities represents a far greater failure than missing the mark on any test of orthodoxy that we could ever devise?

A few weeks ago, I came across this marvellous passage in Henri Nouwen’s book, Lifesigns:

nouewnWhen we consider how much our educational, political and social lives are geared to finding answers to questions born of fear, it is not hard to understand why a message of love has little chance of being heard. Fearful questions never lead to love-filled answersFear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love.

No, it doesn’t.

And those of us who believe that God is love—not that God acts loving most of the time, or is really, really loving compared to most deities, or prefers love over other alternatives, but that love describes God’s very identity—and that God seeks love from his children, and that the world was created in and for love and is leading toward a future reality where love will be the final word on our whole story ought to know this better than anyone else.

We, of all people ought to know that it’s impossible to frighten someone into loving you.  Even for God.  We, of all people ought to be those whose approach to the pain and confusion and complexity of the world is to be governed by a defiant and determined conviction that love is deeper, stronger, and more durable than the petty fears that naturally rise up within us. We, of all people, ought to be those who know that fear is ultimately no match for the love that is not just a nice-sounding word or a poetic gesture toward our highest ideals, but the final truth about the one true Lover who holds us and the world in his hand.

We, of all people, ought to know and live and proclaim this glorious truth—that love is how God’s children are perfected, how we become what we were made to be, how we are like Jesus in this world.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Abe Janzen #

    Very important stuff, Ryan. Thank you. How did so many preachers of Christ’s Gospel, when I grew up, think that fear could be the motivator … the generator of faith and belief.

    January 20, 2015
    • I’ve wondered along similar lines, Abe. Maybe because fear is quite a bit easier to produce and manage than love…

      January 21, 2015
  2. mmartha #

    Belden Lane fr The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, p. 75, quotes from John of the Cross, Sayings:
    “At the end of the day,” he proclaimed, when all the school books are closed, “the subject of examination will be love.”

    January 21, 2015
    • What a wonderful quote! That one’s going in the vault. Thanks for sharing it.

      January 21, 2015
    • mike #

      Yeah, that’s so profound, mmartha. Thank you! ..I needed that.

      January 22, 2015
  3. Kevin Snyder #

    Thanks Ryan. I always appreciate your insights, thick or thin.

    January 21, 2015
    • Thank you very much, Kevin.

      January 21, 2015
  4. mike #

    Thanks for such a great meditation, Ryan.
    I think it’s critically important to our “awakening” that we learn to recognize the overt and even subliminal ways Fear is used as a manipulative tool in our daily lives, whether it’s in the realms of religion,medicine politics or love. It’s unfortunate for people like me who were taught a behaviorally focused Christianity through a lense of Fear

    January 22, 2015
    • Yes. Vitally important.

      January 23, 2015
  5. I suppose all fear, in a word, distills down to death That is the revolutionary truth that is Christianity; The resurrection. Death/fear does not have the last word. Eternal life, eternal love does. In my honest assessment it is the faithful’s lack of faith in this regard that keeps our reality so marginalized. History is a requiem to what men, who ultimately give in to fear and death, value and preserve.

    January 23, 2015
    • I suppose all fear, in a word, distills down to death That is the revolutionary truth that is Christianity; The resurrection. Death/fear does not have the last word. Eternal life, eternal love does.

      Well said, Paul.

      January 24, 2015
    • mike #

      Outstanding comment, Paul.

      ” In my honest assessment it is the faithful’s lack of faith in this regard THAT KEEPS OUR REALITY SO MARGINALIZED. History is a requiem to what men, who ultimately give in to fear and death, value and preserve.”
      Your last sentence made me ponder about how we Christians often conduct elaborate somber funeral services and tributes for those among us who have “passed” as if they were actually expired and gone for good. What does this reveal about the true state of Christianity.
      As I get older, I’m 58 now, I find myself contemplating more and more about my own upcoming death. I’ve taken comfort in something(probably Buddhist) i read somewhere that said in essence “we never actually “die” or cease from conscious awareness, we only transition, fully conscious, out of our physical body and out of this physical world, and as a Christian I can only hope it is into the hands of a Happy God 🙂

      January 24, 2015

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