We experience moments absolutely free from worry. These brief respites are called panic. ~ Cullen Hightower
Why do I think more of us can identify with that slogan as opposed to “Keep calm and carry on?”
Or how about one of its sister slogans: “Now freak out and throw stuff”?
We know fear. We know it daily. Fear of joblessness, of cancer, of abandonment, of rejection, of death, you name it. Fear of the ultimate rejection. Fear of hell, of judgment, of condemnation. Fear of God.
Fear can be an extremely powerful motivator. Historians say that many Russian soldiers in the course of World War II were motivated to hurl themselves into the fight against the Nazis because of squads posted immediately to their rear that had one purpose: to gun them down if they chose flight over fight.
The Old Testment is filled with fear – and often sings its praises. Fear is the beginning of knowledge. Because God forgives, we can fear him. “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever,” sings David.
Fear even makes a positive appearance in the New Testament. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” says Paul to the Philippians. “Submit to one another out of fear for Christ,” he urges the Ephesians.
And yet John says, “There is no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear.” “Drives out” is the same expression frequently used of Jesus driving out demons.
So just how do we resolve this tension, this seeming contradiction?
One approach is to use different English words to translate identical Greek and Hebrew words. “Fear” becomes “respect,” “reverence,” or “awe.” Fear lite.
Maybe. Maybe that catches it. But maybe not.
Others insist that nothing has changed and continue to rely on fear as the primary motivator in life and death, and when facing eternity. Of all the titles of books rebutting Rob Bell’s Love Wins, at least one of them should have been honest and borne the title on its cover in bold print: FEAR WINS.
And indeed, it seems to in just about every realm of human endeavor – particularly in religion and politics.
But I can’t get out of my mind Jesus’ oft repeated assurance to a band of disciples seized with fear (seized with reverence and respect? Not so much. They were scared!): “Fear not.” His other favorite greeting was shared by his entire Jewish culture: “Peace be with you.” Paul picked up that one in each of his letters and added “grace” to boot.
Perhaps John couldn’t get it out of his head either.
Perhaps a more healthy way of viewing fear and love is simply this. Under a covenant that Paul says was a covenant of condemnation fear was the primary, driving motivation, with love in a supporting role. Both motivators are present, but fear and threats of punishment predominate. Love was eclipsed by fear. We may of course ask, “How did that work for you?” The nation painfully self-destructed over a millenium despite all the fear and threats that could be and were piled on them. Then God restored them because he chose to love them anyway.
Enter Jesus. Enter the covenant “not like the covenant I made with your fathers when I brought them out of Egypt.” Enter the covenant that brings life. The covenant of the new commandment to love one another. It would seem, if we are listening, that love has now eclipsed fear. Fear has a back-up, supporting role when and if needed – a role that is, ultimately, vanishing in the bright light of a new heavens and new earth already breaking into our world; vanishing because, as John put it, “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” It is LOVE that drives us, that compels us, that reshapes our soul, that recontours the inner landscapes of our being.
And while John may well have scratched his head at some of Rob Bell’s musings, in the light of his statements and exclamations in 1 John, it hardly seems possible that he could ever have taken issue with his title.