Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
When I’m fed up living with all kinds of fears and I choose to be fearful of only God, I realize that the closer I get to Him, the more I find there’s nothing to be afraid of. Only when I’m far from God do I feel terror; the better I know Him, and His ways with man, the more I realize that my fears have no rational basis.
In Genesis 3, after the fall, Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God … and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden”. Asked where he is (Lord knew everything) Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid”. So the very first reaction of man after fall, when Lord came close to him, was FEAR. Later, in Book of Revelation 21, Lord says this: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”.
In the Old Testament, men become conscious that obeying God’s commandments liberates them from their fears: “in God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?”(Ps 56, 11).
Both during His earthly life, and after His Resurrection, Jesus urged those close to him to “Fear not”, emphasizing the importance of living in His Church: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12, 32). St. Paul the Apostle insists on dismissing every spirit that is secluded from the Love of God: “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8, 15).
Here on Earth, when we are not close to God and choose the sin, we are living in a state of permanent fright expressed through all kind of fears. We are wary of the future; pride and envy come from the fear of being seen as inferior to others; covetousness, gluttony, and lust result from the fear of missing something one may obtain now, like an immediate pleasure; judging, and accusing and slandering others come from the fear of acknowledging our own weaknesses and faults; sloth and laziness come from the fear of taking action, and making necessary changes; anger is brought about by the fear of accepting the other person the way he/she is, conditioning our love on his/her transformation or change.
What can we do under these circumstances? How can we switch from fear to love? The answer is simple: by converting all these fears into the fear of God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1, 7). It’s better to fear God than to live with a multitude of fears, as the Psalmist said: “they never call on God. But they are overwhelmed with dread, where there is nothing to dread” (Ps 53, 5).
Obeying the Lord’s commandements out of love rather than fear happens in three stages. First, one obeys out of the fear of punishment (stage of slave); second, out of a desire to be rewarded (stage of servant or “employee”). Then one can finally reach the stage of son. That is to say, those who get close to God, not because of fear or to gain some profit, but simply from love. These three stages may intertwine in the spiritual life, they are not necessarily successive. We can find them expressed in the Divine Liturgy itself, when the priest or deacon announces the invitation to partake: “With fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near”. When I’m fed up living with all kinds of fears and I choose to be fearful of only God, I realize that the closer I get to Him, the more I find there’s nothing to be afraid of. Only when I’m far from God do I feel terror; the better I know Him, and His ways with man, the more I realize that my fears have no rational basis. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”(I John 4, 18).
In conclusion, as a descendant of Adam, I cannot avoid knowing fear. But I have the freedom to choose either to live an eternity in fear or, through my union with Christ, to convert this into the fear of God, at the end of which I will undoubtedly meet the unfailing love.