The past year and a half has been filled with a lot of fear and uncertainty. Things we once took for granted were taken away, and we were left questioning whether we’d ever get back to “normal.” Jobs were lost, families were divided over politics, and weddings were postponed. And if we’re honest, we’ve all fallen prey to the fear that can grasp our hearts in these uncertain times. Will I get another job? Will I be able to provide for my family? Will my family stay healthy?
Fear is a natural emotion, but if we want to live a fulfilling life, we can’t let it rule us. It’s ok to feel the fear and to acknowledge the fear, but we can’t allow ourselves to wallow in it. How do we manage this? As I was wrestling with some uncertainties of my own recently, I came across this Bible verse about fear:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”
–1 John 4:18
Many of us have heard this verse from 1 John, often listed among all the other verses in the Bible that tell us to not be afraid. Verses like “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). But this verse is different; it tells us WHY we should not be afraid. It explains that God is able to conquer our fear because there is no fear in love.
Let’s unpack this verse a bit more. “There is no fear in love” is a strong statement; there is NO fear. Not even a little bit. This doesn’t seem realistic in today’s society, because we have a lot of fears when it comes to love: we are afraid that our significant other will get mad and leave us if they find out about our flaws (exactly what John is talking about when he says “fear has to do with punishment”). We worry that our spouses will someday stop loving us. We worry that we’ll never find love. There is a reason that we have these fears about love– we only know human love, and human love is imperfect. What we really fear is not love itself, but the lack of love that we experience when an imperfect person fails us. But God’s love isn’t like that. Let’s continue reading:
“There is no fear in love…but perfect love drives out fear.”
The difference between human love and God’s love is that God’s love is perfect. It will never run out, or get bored of us, or find someone else better. It loves every imperfection we have without judgement. It forgives any mistake we make. It is always patient and gives grace when we need it, every time. Perfect love means that we don’t have to be afraid of rejection, because God will never leave us (Deut. 31:8). We don’t have to worry about the future, because God in His love has a plan for us that is to prosper and not harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). We don’t even have to worry about being good enough to be loved, because perfect love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). And if the God who knows exactly what the future holds loves us that much, we can trust Him to work things out for our good, because He wants the best for us.
All that is great, but my favorite part is actually the end of the verse, the part that says perfect love DRIVES OUT fear. This doesn’t just imply that when we are loved, it’s a little easier to not be anxious. It means that when we allow the perfect love of God to invade us, there is NO ROOM left for fear. Fear and love cannot both be present in us at the same time. Some versions of the text say that perfect love “casts out” fear; this picture is still the same. When God’s love comes to dwell in us, it casts out all of the fear that resides in us. This is reflected in the end of verse 18: “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” We cannot be fully loved by God and be continually afraid.
Again, I’m not saying that we will never feel fear. But fear doesn’t have to stay in our hearts if we remind ourselves that we are perfectly loved and cared for by a God who knows the future– and is not afraid of it. So as we continue to navigate this pandemic (and life in general), let’s make room in our hearts for God’s love and let it drive out the fear and uncertainty that’s hiding there. When we start to feel anxious, let’s reach for our Bibles rather than letting our minds focus on what we’re worried about. I promise that there is rest for every anxious heart in the hands of our loving Father.