When Will We Stop Being Afraid?
By Ed Frey
“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).
Creature Features was a TV show that aired late Saturday afternoons on WGN in Chicago. They showed classic horror movies like The Werewolf, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Attack of the 50-foot Woman, The War of the Worlds, Godzilla, King Kong—all those awful black-and-white films from the 1930s to the 1960s.
As a kid, it was fun to watch. You could be a scared for about an hour or so, and then you could return to your normal, un-scary life. The monster was killed; the aliens were defeated. Being scared is sort of fun when the danger isn’t real, or the threat is not imminent.
It is not fun to be afraid in the “real” sense, though. Fear is an emotion that is so well known. It is produced by a sense of danger real or perceived. It is a powerful emotion that can damage both the physical body and the state of the mind. Fear can block thought processes and make us do things that seem illogical. John Madden, of CBS Sports and Madden Football fame, used to crisscross the country in his customized bus, “The Madden Cruiser” because he is afraid of flying.
Fear is one of our first and strongest emotions. It is the first emotion Adam and Eve presented after the fall into sin. Adam admitted to God: “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). Fear causes us to run from the problem rather than seek the solution.
There are a lot of people who are afraid these days. Panic, anxiety, worry, and concern all describe our world’s emotional state.
So, when will this all end? When will we stop being afraid? Those are good questions. St. John gives us some answers in chapter four of his first epistle: But perfect love drives out fear. When love pushes out fear; that’s when it ends.
Perfect love pushed back fear. It didn’t remove the consequences of sin, but it provided him a way to press on and overcome. God’s love is perfect love because it is complete love. It is love that finds fulfillment in promises made and kept.
Perfect love in Christ pushes back against fearful despair or defiance. The Lord is not saying, “Get with it! Start proving you love me, and I’ll love you back!” He is simply calling us to use what we have been given. The Holy Spirit who transformed us by the perfect love of Christ has left a rich deposit of his love in our own hearts, and the more we give it away, the more we receive anew from the Spirit of God. We don’t save ourselves, conform our hearts, transform our hostile minds, climb up to God’s level or earn his love. God acts first. He first pushed back fear by demonstrating his perfect love in the redemptive work of his Son, Jesus Christ. The perfect love of Jesus is deliberate and intentional in its desire to sacrifice. Self-sacrifice. That is the nature of Christ. That is the essence of his love which is why it casts out fear.
Fear leads to self-preservation. Fear is always based on the unknown. The unknown factors these days are many: Will I have enough money? Will I have enough toilet paper? Will there be an economy left by the summer? Will my child graduate? Will I lose my job? In order to combat fear, it makes sense that we self-preserve. We stockpile. We push and shove. We shake our fists. We road rage. We wag our tongues and spew foul language. We lash out before someone lashes at us. We complain about the decisions our leaders make. We gripe about the lines at the store or gas pump. We label people as kooks or crooks.
That’s fear. Survival of the fittest! That’s not love, though. Jesus’ love finds its fulfillment – it’s perfection and completion–in self-sacrifice. The perfect love of Christ finds its fulfillment in the hope to benefit to someone else. We find peace in Christ who meets us in our fears with his love and gives us a real reason for courage and hope. “Fear not; for I have overcome the world!” he promises (John 16:33). And so, we rise up to meet fear with courage, anger with kindness, and anxiety with calm. That means we respect our government, demonstrate Christian love to our fellow citizens, practice good health, and strive to take advantage of new opportunities for worship and study. Coronavirus is not the only thing that is contagious. Fear is contagious—but so is love.
Our Savior promises to meet us in our fears with his love. Christ is meeting us where we are during this time of crisis. Is the Lord using this situation to teach, correct, discipline, encourage, and equip us? Indeed, as he always does. But he is not punishing us! And the result? His love pushes back the fear. And we get to do that by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, push back the fear. Let’s think before we speak. Let’s respond rather than react. Let’s discern before we judge. Offer a helping hand of mercy instead of the accusatory index finger of blame. Ask someone: “How are you doing?” instead of shouting: “Just what do you think you are doing?” The Lord is providing us with incredible opportunities to let our light shine in ways that will serve our communities in Christian love.
How can the love of Christ push back the contagion of fear in your community? Maybe you know of at-risk residents on your block—the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, or other health risks. You could offer to make their grocery store runs for them.
Maybe there is a healthcare worker or first responder in your neighborhood. You could just check in on them to see how they are holding up. Push back the fear with the perfect love of Christ that is in you. Maybe you pick up your dinner from the mom-and-pop restaurant that is struggling to stay afloat.
Is there a single person you know who is homebound, perhaps a widow or widower? Maybe you could go through your church directory and set aside a few minutes to talk to someone on the phone. Push back the fear with the love of Christ that is in you! We sacrifice a bit of ourselves and not just stockpile to preserve ourselves. Push back the fear with the perfect love of Christ in you.
If Americans are caught in a web of needs and fears, let’s push back with the perfect love of Christ. The Lord is still in control. His Word is still effective. His love is perfect and all-sufficient. Bask in the promises by staying in the Word. Unleash the power of the Holy Spirit by putting your faith into action. Let’s be the ones who step up in love and are ready to explain why we need not fear. We have perfect love. We have the Holy Spirit. That means you’ve got it in you. Let’s push back the fear!
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