Fear versus Love
By Erik Retallick
“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
Yesterday I was talking to a group of about 100 children in a local school, 11 and 12 years of age, to whom we were about to offer a free New Testament and Psalms, if they wished to receive them. Yes, we are still allowed to do this in the UK, provided the Head Teacher, Principal and Governors of the school grant their permission. The staff of the school gave us a great welcome and we could sense that they had a Christian ethos, one of their core values as a school being “respect,” which was emphasized by the teacher who introduced me to the children.
When, during my talk, I asked the question, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t face problems in life?” one hand was raised in the air, by a young boy of 11 or 12. To be honest, I was extremely surprised that even one person admitted to having no problems in life, and I would have loved to have had the time to talk to him and discover his secret formula to trouble and problem-free living. I don’t think even the bravest and hardiest person can say with true honesty that they don’t encounter problems and difficulties in life, at some points more than at others. Eliphaz the Temanite, one of Job’s less than perfect comforted, expressed it like this: “Man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7).
Ever since Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, causing us all to become sinners from birth as part of our genetic make-up, fear has also become part of our inheritance, mainly as a result of guilt which comes from sin. There are probably more counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists in the world today than we have ever seen, some hopefully more successful than Job’s comforters, but many perhaps not even as good as they were!
As someone with training Psychology and often involved in therapeutic work, I have to tread carefully here. People trained in these different skills are invaluable in today’s society, as they can help restore calm and balance to people’s minds, hearts and lives in a world where there is increasing inequality, injustice, conflicts at all levels of society and record numbers suffering from anxiety, depression and yes, even real fear about their own future and personal circumstances.
With all the talking therapies, medication, natural medicines and combinations of these things, what does the Bible have to say about dealing with fear in our lives? In the verse I quoted at the beginning of this article, we learn that “there is no fear in love.” We are then told that “perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” In other words, fear and perfect love cannot co-exist in our hearts and minds. Perfect love obviously means the love of God, because no other love in life can reach perfection.
Human love may be very wonderful, maybe even approach what seems like perfection, and may even relax, calm us and give contentment to our hearts and lives, but it cannot deal with issues of deep fear, anxiety and address all the needs we experience in life. In other words, stronger medication is required to deal with the real underlying fear, which is that of death and eternal death, that is, separation from God for ever.
The real answer to our deep needs as sinners is to receive the perfect love and grace of God in our minds, hearts and lives. The last part of 1 John 4:18 says, “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” In other words, to be made perfect in love is to know (which we can only know by God’s grace,) the perfect love of God working in us. Is this possible in a fallen world, when so many of us, even those have known Jesus as their Saviour for a very long time, feel condemned, guilty and worthless in their day to day lives?
I have experienced times when worry and fear of the future seem to flood in and guilt adds to guilt, when problems seem to overwhelm me. I have also experienced times when I should have felt overwhelming fear and God has given me His love in my heart and mind! This can only be because of the grace of God at work in me, because to my way of thinking it is irrational! Maybe you can also relate to this, or something similar in your own situation and experiences.
The important thing is that we come to experience the grace and love of God in our hearts, by faith, which is a gift of God. Through the death of Jesus on the cross, as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we can know of God’s forgiveness when we confess our sins. 1 John 1:9 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In his Gospel, John tells us that Jesus “came to His own people, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name.” (John 1:11-12)
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.