Perfect Love Casts Out Fear[1]

1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 

I am confused. The Bible speaks over 400 times about fear. The references seem to be of three types: personal fear, God or Jesus telling us not to fear,[2] and multiple references to the efficacious “Fear of the Lord.” How can I “Fear not,” while simultaneously exude the virtue of “Fear of the Lord”???

Holy Spirit, this is a confusing conundrum…and I am sure the resolution is probably one of Your inevitable both/and’s! This verse from 1John seems to shed some light on it. I have always envisioned the virtue of Fear of the Lord as a continuum from the “shock and awe” fear which the almighty Jehovah inspires with His with his blackening suns and falling stars, his voice which shatters the cedars of Lebanon and his trumpets which portend the end of the world…to the recognition that God is love, a love so tender, so intimate, that He knows every hair on my head. But love, to be solid and firm, must be based on truth…and on humility, the recognition and embracing of that truth. So, it is the recognition of the total God, Jehovah and Jesus, the Almighty and the baby at Bethlehem, that I see as encompassed in the total concept of Fear of the Lord.

And somewhere in there, at least in the back of my mind, I have at least a very significant reverence for, if not awe, mingled with the inkling of fear of…the Power of this God who loves us.

So when Jesus tells the Apostles in the boat, “Fear not, it is I,”[3] the basis of overcoming this fear is recognition of a loved one, of Jesus. Thus, as John states, perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps that is the moral of the subsequent acted out parable of Peter’s less than auspicious stroll on the water. As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus whom he loved, he was fine. As soon as he let the whirling wind and the crashing waves take his focus off Jesus, his mind clicked into instinctual mode and self-preservation took over, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”[Mt 14:30] After rescuing Peter, Jesus, probably exasperated but chortling, chides him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Mt 14:31] Is that all your faith is worth, a few steps and then sploosh? Did Peter see the threats of nature as “punishment” for his frailty, as John would explain it? Or, better, rather his beginning to drown as “punishment” for his lack of faith, his lack of love.

John and Paul have the same image of love in mind, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.[1 Cor 13:7] Such a perfect love casts out fear. Perfect love is up for anything.

There are, however, different fears that are connected with any love. One is the fear of You leaving, growing tired of me, or having other things to do and just not being there one day. With You, God, as with everything, this fear is “writ large,” as it were. What have I that You should love me, pay attention to me, abide in me. [Ps 8:4-6] I am Your creation, Your creature, “dust and unto dust” I shall return, no more that a flower of the field, blooming during the day and by the night, gone, [Ps 103:15-16] lasting but a blink in eternity. Unlike human love where the feeling is based on need, on desire, on companionship, on agape or a combination thereof, and there is a mutual reciprocal bond, with You, all must initiate from You, from entity to eternity, the need based on love, mercy, sharing, the desire to eat this supper with us, the companionship of mortals with the immortal, the love which surpasses all understanding and comprehension. In human bond, we like to think that we have some control over the other, some link, some bond, some silken thread which the other will not break without them bearing consequences as well as us. But with You, what hold have we on You, but only that which You place there Yourself and can as easily remove. Therein lies the source of such fear…and, strangely, miraculously, mysteriously therein, since You bind Yourself to us with perfect love, therein and thereby you cast off the fear. As St. Paul so rightly puts it, what can, indeed, separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:35, 38-39]

Having established that You, by Your own will, love us incomprehensibly, I face the much more likely, much more real fear of You, the fear of making you angry. From the first time we crunched down on the apple till now, You have only been good to us and we, in return, have usually only been disobedient to You. We have rejected You, reviled You, worshipped ourselves and our idols instead of You, used Your creation for our own pleasure instead of serving You, pushed You out of our lives and pursued our own desires instead of You, trampled down each other and You, even demanded You be crucified and then attempted to kill You; fortunately, You would not let a little thing like death stop You from loving us.

Any red-blooded human being would be furious at me, would not only demand justice in court but would thrown out where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. [Mt 22:13] I would not be released until you have paid the last penny. [Lk 12:59] Thank You, God, that You are not a red-blooded human being, or rather, that when You became a red-blooded human being, you did not follow our fight-or-flight instincts, but gave us another, a new “f”, no instinct, but paradigm, forgive. You portrayed Yourself as the Good Shepherd who doesn’t play the percentages but leaves 99 vulnerable sheep and comes looking for me, as I wander aimlessly, helplessly, getting into thorn bush after thorn bush of trouble, with the rabid wolves of worldliness closing in for the kill. But you came searching for me, just me, little, old insiginificant me…and with Your rod and Your staff, You chase them away, You gently pull away the thorns of addiction, picked me up and carried me home on your shoulders…no wonder I could only see one set of footprints. You proved Your love for us in that while we were still sinners, You, our Christ, died for us. [Rom 5:8] Nothing, no nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:39]

Finally, I face the fear of losing you, not by anything that You do, but by my being lulled into laxity by the sirens of seduction, lured into the grips of addiction by the rationalization of irrational decisions, until ultimately my “almighty” I, realizing what I am doing, choose to bar You from my life, to turn my back on Your Goodness and Love, to, for myself at least, play God and “control” my own life without heeding Your call to listen to You, to ob-audiere to Your use and care manual for humanity. This spiral of loss is self-perpetuating; I convince myself I’m right by doing wrong. There is no escaping this maelstrom of madness on my own. And in the midst of this self-destruction, a still small voice in my conscience will whisper, “You have shut out the only friend, the only one who can extricate You from Your misery.” And I will convince myself that I have lost You.

But You are intrepid, incorrigible in your tenacity, patient beyond enduring with the patience of eternity, and you perpetually stand at the door and knock. [Rev 3:20] I will shout out: Do not bother me; the door has already been locked. [Lk 11:7] And, hopefully, by the constant, never-ending dripping of Your grace drop by drop on my soul, in Your Love, I pray that You will wear me down, smash my resistance, and if I do not get up to give You my love, my sorrow, my self because of our friendship, I will get up to give You whatever You ask for because of Your persistence. [Lk 11:8] You will not let me lose You. For nothing, no nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Rom 8:39]

Lord, help me to love You perfectly and to cast out fear from my life. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] For example, Gen 15:1; Ex 14: 13-14; Is 8:12, 35:4, 40:9, 41:10,13, 43:1,5, 44:2; Bar 4:5,21,27, 30; Dan 10:12; Joel 2:21,22; Zec 8:13,15; Mt 14:27; Jn 20:19.

[3] Literally, “I am,” This may reflect the divine revelatory formula of Ex 3:14; Is 41:4, 10, 14; 43:1–3, 10, 13. Mark implies the hidden identity of Jesus as Son of God. [NABRE, Note on Mk 6:50]

 

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