By Susan K. Smith,
A natural answer to the question, “What is the opposite of love?” would be “hate,” but the Rev. William Barber says that the opposite of “love” is “fear.”
The two concepts of love and fear are juxtaposed in 1 John 18. The writer makes it clear that the two cannot exist in the same space; if one fears a person, one cannot love that person and if one cannot love another person, or other people, then the writer says one cannot love God.
Fear hardens us, blinds us, makes us deaf and paralyzes us, keeping us stagnant in times where we need to be actively fighting for those who need to see God in those who talk about God.
Fear is a game changer. Fear makes us suspicious of each other; it makes us look at each other as objects and not as human beings. In this world, there has always been a preponderance of fear. Fear makes a way for the “isms” to exist and to flourish – “isms” including racism, sexism, militarism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and more. The objectification of others make us unable to see the pain and to address the needs of “the least of these.” Fear makes us unable to hear the cries and moans of others and instead, to burrow into our comfortable silos. Fear hardens us, blinds us, makes us deaf and paralyzes us, keeping us stagnant in times where we need to be actively fighting for those who need to see God in those who talk about God.
Fear made a white homeowner in Michigan last week go ballistic when a young African American teen, who had missed his school bus, knocked on the door of her house to ask for directions to the school. Reports say she began to yell and scream when she saw him, shrieking as she asked why he would come to rob her home. Her cries were so intense that they inspired her husband to come to her “defense.” He fired a shot at this young man, who, I imagine, was kind of in awe of what he was seeing and hearing. The shot missed the young man and the would-be shooter was arrested, but the story reveals how dangerous is fear, and how it destroys lives.
It was Paul Tillich that defined sin as anything which separates us from God, and if that definition holds true, then all of us are living in sin. Fear is a huge barrier to being able to see God, hear God, and serve God. Fear becomes the focus of our attention, not the words and the will of God. Fear keeps groups of people banded together where individuals within the group seek affirmation, security and acceptance from each other. Reinhold Niebuhr said that “groups use both religion and reason to advance their own interests and find it nearly impossible to “feel the pain of others as vividly as they do their own.”
In times of war, fear probably saves those on the battlefield; it is necessary in combat to see “the enemy” as just that – an enemy, as object which must be taken down before “it” takes the soldier down.
The problem is, though, that we use the “wartime mentality” in our everyday lives. To some, anyone who is not a part of the group which Niebuhr describes is “the enemy,” to be feared and destroyed. People who are different are not our enemy. They are just different, made so purposely by God. The variety of people is evidence of God’s sovereignty and God’s power. In fighting against people who are different than we are, we are fighting against God’s will and against God’s sovereignty. If “perfect love casts out fear,” we might easily say the converse, “perfect fear casts out love, and therefore, casts out God.”
Fear is what is causing much of the turmoil in our own lives, and fear is what is causing much of the chaos in the world. How do we justify what we do to and don’t do for others, even as we proclaim our love for God? Proclaiming our love for God while we castigate, negate, humiliate and subjugate others is in effect lying to God; we are holding onto God while at the same time holding onto our cultural beliefs and hold those beliefs more closely than we do God. We are in a spiritually adulterous relationship with God, acting like a person who knows that his/her spouse is “good,” but who nonetheless looks elsewhere for satisfaction and affirmation. In both cases, we want our cake and eat it, too.
If we are in a space where fear is more the driver of what we do and do not do, we are living in a basically god-less society, and if we are living in a god-less society, it is no wonder that we live in such chaos. Maybe the source of the fear which we project outward to others is indicative of the fears we hold within our souls; we have been hurt and so we hurt others, even as we live in constant fear of more hurt coming.
If perfect love casts out fear then it would seem that we have much work to do in order to name the fear and thus, get the power to cast it out of our lives and out of the way of our relationship with God. Casting out our fear, bit by bit, will free us up to love God and to really feel God’s love for us. Unless and until we do that, we are disrespecting the presence and the purpose of God in our lives and in the lives of all whom God created. If fear is preventing us from loving each other, that same fear is keeping us from loving God. And if that is the case, our worship of God is illegitimate and shallow.
Surely God deserves better, and surely God wants better for us. In order to be a legitimate follower of God, we must do the work within us so that the love we have for God and that we can finally feel that God has for us becomes evident and more powerful than any fear that encourages us to hate and to see each other as objects.
To love takes work; we must begin by going within ourselves and allowing God to purge us of the fears we have. It is part of bearing our cross. Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No there’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.”
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad