If God is Love… where does fear fit in?

I’m reading this book, which our church is reading for Lent – If God is Love: Rediscovering Grace in an Ungracious world. It’s a jarring book, as it would probably be considered heresy in all the churches I have ever been a part of in the past (these blessed Presbyterians). The authors’ main premise is that God loves universally, saves universally, and we have done wrong to start with fear as a way of introducing God and salvation to people. While I don’t end in the same place, that being universal salvation, I do have a sense that God loves universally… and that fear is not something that is of God.

The issues that the authors raise… those regarding fear, speak volumes to me. They write of manipulation and a tendency to “evangelize” most effectively with those who have already grown up in environments of fear or abuse. As these people are already afraid or insecure, the notion of hell and judgment or a God who is ready to strike us down hits them strongly and they turn to God even more readily. No one wants to be struck down or burned for all of eternity… especially when life is a fearful thing already. In my understanding, this manipulation is not something Jesus exemplified. It is not the God I know and experience daily.

70453844_7ce7c1479a_o.jpgSo the issue of fear is what has struck the greatest chord. I am under the impression that more people live in fear than I can possibly conceive. Fear is everywhere, and most only know to respond fearfully in return. It is in our government, in our churches, in our families, in our selves. I have tasted it so strongly as I have been growing up. Granted, I feel a progression of less fear as those close to me become increasingly reconciled. This I thank God for. To live in love is not to fear. Right? I suppose I can rest in this movement away from fear that I am experiencing… but there is something missing. I guess I miss the acknowledgment from those close to me that the fear existed. I need to hear this. I need to hear people say, “Yah, I felt that fear, too. I still feel that fear… it effects me every day.” I guess that’s why I am sending this.

I have long begun refusing to acknowledge or accept pressure through fear… but whether it was just me and my own perceptions, or whether it had something to do with the story that we all come from… I grew up with a strong sense of fear. I knew that if I did the right thing… or at least didn’t get caught for doing the wrong thing (or things that I didn’t even think were wrong, but other people thought they were)… if I stayed out of trouble, I was OK with people in authority. Everyone was happy. BUT… BUT… if I got caught doing the wrong thing (and I use those words intentionally), I was in serious trouble. I don’t need to mention what the trouble looked like, because it came in all sorts of different ways, but it was there. Trouble. And this amounts to fear. I was, and really still am, afraid. I would say some of us have been crippled by this at times. Some just wounded. I have to say, I have a limp. This I know. It is with me… and I want more than anything to get out of it… but the fear is there. I guess this is my acknowledgment.

So I guess my question in the subject of this email stands… If God is love, where does fear fit in? Am I imagining it… or is it really something never to be used for manipulation, control, discipline, or anything else? To what extent does the damage of manipulation through fear go? Thoughts?

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11 thoughts on “If God is Love… where does fear fit in?”

  1. Love drives out fear and if God is love then there is not fear for those who are fully embraced by the love of God.

    This sounds simple, but I agree that fear is a reality of the human psyche and the human spirit and thus the human soul as well it seams. …But this is the great gift that God is offering us.

    We can learn to live without fear if we fully trust God. Is this possible for us here in this world?

    Jesus lived it, and showed it and died for it, so I believe that it is possible with the help of God.
    Trust more and fear less.

    Perhaps this is the battle each of us fights. Trust in ourselves and fear every little thing in life or live in the Grace of God and love the whole world.

    Now if I can just get to church in the morning without getting into an accident on the icy roads..:)

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  2. “Perfect love casts out fear” . . . we see perfect love in action in the life of Jesus. We see him in fearful situations, turning instead toward his opponents in love. Christ lives within us and can provide the same kind of loving response we may need in threatening situations. When in those situations, we remember that we aren’t there alone, but the God of love is right there with us. ” . . . the Spirit within you is far stronger than anything in the world.”

    Fear is a topic to explore slowly and prayerfully to dig out layers of fear in ourselves and in our culture. Personally, it’s hard for me to identify fear in my immediate life. I am very fearful for others — for the children in Uganda (read all strife-torn countries) who live in fear of being kidnapped by the LRA, for the children of Baghdad (read all huge cities) who scrounge for rotten food at garbage dumps, for the young people in our country who are tempted into drug and alcohol abuse to fill the emptiness inside their lives, for those whose identity is bound up with their job/bank account/promotion, for spouses who fear going home to an abusive partner. I think our country responds in unexamined fear to the threat of economic downturn. We fear not being “the most powerful nation on earth.” That fear leads us to shake our fists in destructive wars that are decimating our future economy. We fear “enemies” without taking time to become acquainted with their sources of fear.

    I pray that we might draw close to the God of love during this Lenten season and invite the balm of God’s peace to heal our fears.

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  3. The only piece I’d like to add to the conversation about “fear” and “God” is the sense that this word is sometimes translated as such when a better term might be “awe”. But of course the word “awe” or “awesome” have lost some meaning in our contemporary context.

    When the Bible speaks of having “fear of God” it often has a connotation of reverent awe.

    “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”.

    This is a saying that people could really take the wrong way- as if fire and brimstone await those who aren’t “afraid” enough.

    I don’t think that’s the point though. The point is to orient one’s life and understanding around the fact that God is sovereign over everything.

    I think about C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of Aslan (Jesus). He said something like: “He is good, but not safe”.

    Again, that can be taken the wrong way. I think the point is that we should never be too flippant about the Creator and we should always remember that despite His lovingkindness (hesed) and His closeness and availability to us, He is also always, by His very nature- “other”.

    In fact he is so “other” that it should give us pause to always approach Him with reverent awe- read “fear” if you can without too many negative attachments.

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  4. The only piece I’d like to add to the conversation about “fear” and “God” is the sense that this word is sometimes translated as such when a better term might be “awe”. But of course the word “awe” or “awesome” have lost some meaning in our contemporary context.

    When the Bible speaks of having “fear of God” it often has a connotation of reverent awe.

    “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”.

    This is a saying that people could really take the wrong way- as if fire and brimstone await those who aren’t “afraid” enough.

    I don’t think that’s the point though. The point is to orient one’s life and understanding around the fact that God is sovereign over everything.

    I think about C.S. Lewis’ portrayal of Aslan (Jesus). He said something like: “He is good, but not safe”.

    Again, that can be taken the wrong way. I think the point is that we should never be too flippant about the Creator and we should always remember that despite His lovingkindness (hesed) and His closeness and availability to us, He is also always, by His very nature- “other”.

    In fact he is so “other” that it should give us pause to always approach Him with reverent awe- read “fear” if you can without too many negative attachments.

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  5. The role of fear in Christianity is virtually undeniable as both a motivator and a central role in theology. Sure there are verses that say things like “Perfect love casts out fear” but there are other verses about “casting out” that actually instill the fear! I struggle with this all the time, particularly as I look at the picture of Jesus as presented in the gospels (I like that guy) and then the Jesus I see in the Revelation of John (warrior Jesus–not a huge fan of vengeful warriors whether they have legitimate grievances or not). The religion we follow, almost undeniably (unless you want to embrace universalism–which I do WANT to a lot but can’t quite manage to) teaches tremendous, permanent, terrible consequences to bad actions–namely unbelief. I don’t know if we can get around this. It is a constant nagging concern of mine and I have come to no comforting conclusion. But if all you want is to know others are there with you, then Nate, my friend, be comforted. 😉
    Chrissi Wright

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  6. Thanks, all! The Bible, I guess, does some really confusing things to us as readers… and especially for those who aren’t regular readers. It’s crazy. Yah, I know the thing about fear meaning “awe” and “wonder.” This is good. Then there are all those people who are terrorized by fear of punishment from God. I think maybe the real deal was that they didn’t quite know God all that well.

    The real problem I think is this… not really the Bible, but people. If we believe that God is love, that he is gracious, that he is infinitely good… why the “hell” do we use so much fear. It really IS the problem of sin and frankly, there are so many people I could simply respond, “Do you want me to be afraid of you right now? Do you want me to be afraid of what God is going to do to me? Are you seriously associating the two?” There just seems to me to be no excuse.

    Now, I really don’t want to be a finger pointer. The question is one that I ask myself, and I think I have to get really frustrated in order to honestly answer it. I DO NOT EVER WANT PEOPLE TO FEAR ME… and I do not ever want them to be afraid of God, or what God will do to them. The real question is “How does this change my life.”

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  7. Regarding the Jesus depicted in the book of Revelation versus the Jesus of history recorded in the gospel accounts, perhaps we would do well to remember that Revelation is written in the genre of Jewish apocalyptic. And as such, perhaps it shouldn’t be read in the same way as we read the synoptic gospels.

    And I’m being a little coy here. I don’t think it should be read in the same way.

    I’m not therefore saying that if we get genre right, that everything gets suddenly neat and tidy. But it certainly helps. 🙂

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  8. Changing ones life due to fear or due to love seems to be a core question or option of the Gospels and of faith and he Christian Church. We may be able to bring a significant number of people to consider belief in Jesus and thus God through Jesus due to the fear of God and eternal punishment for our sins.

    But what is the cost and the implications of this Gospel? Do we create a church/community of fear and people trying to avoid punishment? Or do we want to create a church/community of people that is based on love for each other, and ALL OTHERS, and want to live out the sermon on the mount, the parables and to emulate the life of Jesus to make the Kingdom of God real on earth as in heaven, as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, every day.

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  9. well stated, darren. these are things i know, but not to the extent that they are natural to me yet. decades of “bible is bible is straight up God talking” theological training have left me with some strange default modes. default mode is, therefore, no longer acceptable. but intentional mode is so unnatural! 😉

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  10. I believe that there is a strong fear inducing religious system that is operating within the church. In the fear system many christians grow up in a church environment that instills fear, they quickly learn that God is a God of fear, judgement and wrath. They embrace these strong beliefs and over a period of time this shapes there perception of God. God becomes A God of fear ready to punish. People holding this view of God find it hard to relate to God as Abba or Dad. They find themselves in this constant sin confess cycle which dominates there life because every time they mess up they think God is angry with them ready to punish them. In a way this becomes a repetative obsession that God needs to be appeased out of fear than out of love and I think this can have a detrimental effect on us psycologically. Inorder to break out of the fear system we need to change the way we think about God. Our perception of God must change. Instead of a God of fear we replace it with a God of love. We can only move from fear to love when we truly understand our identity in christ and who we are in relation to him and him to us. It can be done old restricting belief patterns of God can be replaced with correct belief patterns centred on love. When we truly see God for who he really is, a God who accepts you unconditionally we can truly begin to grow.

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