“There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment.”
1 John 4:18
A Word of Hope
I think many people have heard this famous verse that perfect love casts out fear, but I don’t think as many people know the second half of it: that the reason perfect love casts out fear is because fear has to do with punishment. I think this is profoundly insightful, and helpful. Psychologically, emotions are beliefs about the world. Excitement is a belief that something good is about to happen. Love is a belief that something or someone valuable is in front of us. Sadness is a belief that something isn’t quite right or that something I once had is gone. And of course it is far more complex than this, with a million different kinds of love or sadness and just as many beliefs.
Fear is the same, John seems to tell us in Christian sacred text. Fear is a belief that punishment is impending. And John seems to believe that a part of love is a belief that punishment is not just around the corner.
I can’t tell you how deeply I wish I could feel this all the time. How often I am scared. How often I anticipate punishment even from God. Here I am, so many years into this journey, and I still feel sometimes, in this gripping way, that God is dangerous, that God would punish me if I ___________.
What would life look like without fear that God will punish us? What would we do? What would we be?
I often think things like, “I want to be more loving” or “I want to know God’s love more.” But that can be so vague. One of the things I think John is offering to us is a way to be more loving and to know God’s love more: counteract the voice of fear inside your own mind. Speak comfortingly and assuringly to yourself when a voice tells you that punishment is around the corner. And in so doing, feel more love, feel more freedom, feel more of that holy kind of power.
So many of us have been taught to believe that fearing God is morally good, that being afraid of punishment is necessary and important. But here, John is telling us, “No, my beloved ones: love is a belief in a God who would never punish you.”
Mother of us all, teach us to trust you. Teach my heart to feel safe in your embrace. Soften the hard edges I’ve cut to survive. Bring greater peace to my heart. You are the safest of Parents. You would never punish me. You would never punish us. It’s utterly against your nature. Let me believe it is so. Let me feel your love. Amen.
Tyler James, LPC, MA