Fear’s a powerful thing; it’ll turn your heart black you can trust
It’ll take your God-filled soul and fill it with devils and dust
- from Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen
Fear drives much of human behavior: Fear of failure, fear of being rejected, fear our sins will become known to others, fear we won’t have enough, etc. Our fears then drive us to mitigate these effects by accumulating defense mechanisms, like power, status, or money, usually at the expense of others. If it becomes our prime driver, then fear, as Springsteen notes, hardens our hearts, filling our souls with “devils & dust.”
St John wisely instructs us about fear, writing: “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” (1 John 4:18). If our fears come from our ever striving to avoid rejection, truthful exposure, or being in want, then our fears are really about us running away from the “punishment” we believe those would cause us. Of course, it does us no good when well-meaning friends tell us not to live by our fears. That just confirms for us that we’re pretty sorry Christians leading us to more fear that we’ll be rejected, revealed, and ridiculed. The antidote actually comes, not from some courage inside ourselves, but from God’s grace outside ourselves. God’s grace is the “perfect love” that “casts out fear.” This doesn’t mean that by ourselves we can ever reach “perfection in love,” but rather it means that God’s “perfection in love,” AKA, Jesus, reaches us through his cross.
Kevin Richardson, a South African zoologist who literally plays with wild lions, is called the “Lion Whisperer.” If you’ve not seen the video of him playing and resting with wild lions, then by all means view them. They’re awe-inspiring and presage the Prophet Isaiah speaking of a time when the lion will lie down with the lamb (11:6). When asked about being called the “Lion Whisperer,” he responded: “If it’s a phrase people coin because of the relationships I have and the ability to interact with these animals without having to make them to submit through fear, then yes” (emphasis mine).
Animals can recognize grace when they receive it. Even human animals can, but less often because it’s not the normal practice of our lives. Since we so prevalently live by our fears, we dish it out to others as well. We make others “submit through fear;” fear that we won’t love them if we don’t get our way, fear that we’ll expose them to ridicule for their sins, fear that we won’t share with them what we’re blessed to have. And so it goes, spiraling ever downward. That’s why grace is such a counter-culturally dangerous way of living. It undermines the status quo as we wage our fear mongering wars.
What if we called a truce in our fear mongering war and invited others to do the same? What if we risked living gracefully by extending to one another compassion rather than judgment, mercy rather than ridicule, generosity rather than greed? If we lived in such a way, then we’d come to experience the very nature of God with one another. That’s the truth of God in Jesus. And, please pardon me: I’m not lion.