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.
So 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?