“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
I John 4:18-19, 21
I received an email from a woman who was my spiritual director during the last ten years I lived in Louisville. In the email, Mary reminded all of her clients that in the understanding of many philosophies and religions there are two emotions: love and fear. That reminder immediately brought the verse from I John to my mind. In particular, the phrase, “perfect love casts out fear”.
Perfect love casts out fear. It seems that most of my life we have been a country and a people who make decisions out of fear. When I was an elementary-age schoolchild, we had drills where we ducked under our desks and covered our heads just in case the communists dropped a nuclear bomb on us. Our involvement in Viet Nam was motivated by a fear of communism taking hold of our world. Our reaction to 9-11 was motivated by fear and righteous anger that some group would perpetrate a crime on the sacred soil of our country.
For the last three months, every action that we have taken has been motivated by fear – fear of a novel virus, fear of a world pandemic, and fear of our death and the death of others we love. In the last two weeks, we have forgotten the fear of a pandemic caused by a virus and we are living with a much greater fear – the fear of the pandemic of racism. I would suggest that both white people and people of color react to racism out of fear. White people are afraid they might be racist even though we try very hard not to act in those ways. We are afraid that if we acknowledge systemic racism (racism in our societal systems) life might change in very fundamental ways for us. We are afraid of looking deep into the darkness and sinfulness of systems we have perpetuated for centuries. Our black and brown brothers and sisters live with the fear that their very lives are at risk when they walk out the door. They live with fear that their children will be murdered at the hands of those who promise to serve and protect. They live in fear that they will die of Covid-19, that they will never own a home, have a job that pays more than $15.00 per hour, and countless other things that I will never understand.
Perfect love casts out fear. Over and over, God appears to the people of Israel and tells them not to be afraid. Over and over again, angels appear to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah and tell them not to be afraid. Over and over again, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid. The perfect love that casts out fear is found in God – the God we know in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. That love is so perfect that it can take away our fear so that we can make decisions out of love. I will wear a mask, even though I hate it, because I love others and God loves me and invites me to act in this way. I will work against the racism in our community and our country because God has created the black and brown people in our midst just as surely as God has created me. God invites me to love my neighbor in such a way that my neighbor no longer has to live in fear.
We are living in tumultuous times. We also live under the protective cover of God’s amazing love. And that perfect love casts out fear. May it be so for you and for me.