Yes, you read that correctly. The actual Bible verse is “perfect love casts out fear,” but I’m reading Jonathan Martin’s book Prototype, and I fully agree with him that the reverse is also true.
Perfect fear casts out love.
It makes me think of the United States during its election season. Broadly, both political parties trade on fear of each other: “If she is elected, the nation will lose all its values” or “If he is elected, nuclear war is inevitable.” More specifically (and I’m about to share my own political opinions, forgive me), Donald Trump’s platform is almost entirely based on fear. He wants Americans to believe that our country is falling apart, that people from other countries are dangerous, and that things are worse than ever before. Especially where immigrants are concerned (especially especially Muslim immigrants), I’ve noticed that FEARING a people group makes it very difficult to LOVE them. I worry that if Donald Trump is elected, our society will slowly be saturated with an extra dose of fear, and with that, an extra lack of love.
Martin quotes a Bruce Springsteen song that conveys this extremely well:
“Fear’s a powerful thing, baby.
It can turn your heart black you can trust.
It’ll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust.”
Of course, this is even more true on a personal level. When we fear people, it’s hard to love them. Luciana is probably my closest friend in Athens, but when I first met her, I was intimidated by her and full of fear because of her. She came as a volunteer to HD with a Master’s degree, with experience working with homeless people, as a world traveler, experienced in counseling and social psychology. I saw her and immediately thought, “If she’s here, what is the point of me?” I was so threatened, and it colored every interaction with her. I forced politeness, but I secretly hoped that she would hate it here and get a different job.
Then one day, we were both working in the office late. I had been thinking about the power of just saying things out loud, and how that act somehow diffuses our most aggressive emotions. So I turned to Luciana and said, “Hey, I’m just…super intimidated by you.” She was shocked, because this had nothing to do with our conversation, but I explained how she made me feel redundant simply by her existence. “Oh,” she said. “Okay.” We then started talking about movies and books and music and computer games, and I discovered that our similarities were a HUGE FREAKING BLESSING. They united us, and she became one of my closest friends.
When I feared her, I could not love her. Thank God I stepped into the fear and confessed it, or else I would have missed out on something really great.
This goes beyond relationships with other people, though. In Prototype, Martin says, “Increasingly, I’m coming to believe that fear is at the heart of all sin and disaffection. Fear that God will not be enough for us; fear that the identity we’ve been given is somehow incomplete…To put it more starkly, fear casts out God in our lives.”
God is freedom and grace, which is why love feels so much like lightness and ease. Unfortunately, that is not often my reality. I feel anxious a lot of the time, and I am afraid of so much: I fear failure, I fear disapproval, I fear the unknown. These fears keep me locked up, and love sets me free. If I approached life and work with love, with the assurance that there is good and with trust that my self-worth is not based in my performance, well…my whole life would change. I would be open and creative and…well, that’s for tomorrow’s blog post.