Fear and God. For a long time those two words seemed not to go together for me. After all, in the book of 1 John we are told “God is Love” and despite how we tend to think of hate as love’s opposite, anyone who has ever loved knows that is inaccurate. Fear is actually love’s closest possible opposite. Therefore, in my mind tying fear to God was like putting together fire and ice. Sure as an impressionable youth I heard in church that we should fear God’s judgment and read in the Bible and cringed at some of the gangster stuff that the God of the Hebrew Bible pulled. What was worse to me was how God treated people who didn’t comply with “His” plan for elimination of offenders. I was like “Woh. I don’t want to get on “His” bad side. But then, I also heard these other stories about God. I was told that God was all-loving, desired joy for all of “His” children, and would go to such extremes to show “His” love that “He” would sacrifice “His” own Son. Then I was like “Woh. Are we talking about the same God?” Needless to say, I loved the idea of God loving me and going to great lengths to prove it and had disdain for the version of God that was willing to just wipe out everyone and everything because “He” didn’t like the way people used the freedom “He” gave them. In my mind that idea of God was just as petty as little children who want you to stop being friends with someone because they no longer like them and bullies who take out their frustrations on people weaker than them rather than dealing with their own issues.
As I mentioned in the video, I have never done well with threats, so if God really wanted me to know “Him” or “Her” for who they are, threatening to destroy me or perpetually torture me or strike me with lightning was not the way to my heart and I let God know as much. And that is when I think our relationship really began. From there, I really wanted to get to know who my Creator was, why I was created, and what I was here for. And so I searched the Bible for answers, thought about these things incessantly, and tried to follow the program as closely as I could. But unlike how I was instructed, I didn’t do this out of fear of God. I can’t even say that I did it out of love for God. I just wanted to know if God was who people claimed God was and I wanted to know who Jesus was. If I learned to love them in the pursuit of understanding them, then all the better. Now of course, there were times when I was certain that I loved God. Like a lot of “good Christian folk” I thought that my ability to “be good” according to the world’s standards was somehow indicative of my love of God. After all, Jesus had taught that if we loved him, who was representative of God in this world, then we would keep his commandments–which was nothing short of loving God and neighbor as self. So that was what I tried to do. But by living long enough, being honest with myself, and paying attention to my thoughts eventually showed me that even in that, I was the ultimate aim of my “so called goodness”. Remember, my efforts were to know who God and Jesus were and perhaps love them, so in effect I was really just trying to get myself to love them and others so that I could get to know them and then decide if I really loved them. Did you get that? It was about me figuring God out and trying to see if it made sense that this God would do what people said God did. Have you ever heard people say with the utmost confidence, “God wouldn’t do this.” or God wouldn’t do that.”? Well I was on my way to being that guy if I would have continued to try to love God into submission so that God would reveal Godself to me. Is this making any sense? If not then let me give you one more analogy.
So you know how humans are insecure as all get out? We always need to be reassured that we are loved. We can’t just accept that we are lovable even if no one ever demonstrates it to us. We need proof. And so when we get into relationships there’s usually this pretty silly game we play that I call “Show Me You Love Me and Then I’ll Show You I Love You”. It’s a never ending game that is very similar to stacking playing cards on a shaky card table. The object of your affection gives you these cards and says, “Stack ’em how I need you to stack ’em and then I’ll know you love me. And here’s the rules. If the cards fall for any reason I will take it as proof that you don’t love me. The only way that I will believe that you love me after that is if you continue to try to stack the cards under increasingly difficult conditions. For every mistake you make, I will make it that much harder for you to stack the cards. If you get tired, need a break, or even ask for help, I will take it as proof that you don’t love me. I will never believe you love me unless you stack the cards the way I am thinking in my mind or die trying. I will not give you any clues and the only guidance you will receive is my disappointment at your mistakes.”
That’s the junk I think we project onto God and it was the game I started out playing with God. I thought if I could prove to God that I was the master of love then I would get to the secret of God’s heart. But if you have ever been good at convincing someone that you love them for your own ends, then you know that sometimes when that person finally believes you and reveals their true unpretentious selves to you you sometimes find that you actually don’t really like the “real them” that much or you resent them for making you go through so much that by the time they stop playing hide and seek with their heart, you barely give a hoo hoo. Oh boy. We are COM-PLI-CA-TED. Anyway, this is my way of saying that I was putting myself through junk to show how loving I could be . I was making emotional and psychic sacrifices on the altar of goodness and it was exhausting and pretty pointless. When I realized that, I decided to stop myself and ask myself if I could love a God that I could never know. Could I love a God who loved me for no good reason? And the biggest question of all was could I love a God that was capable of such terrorizing madness that he was worthy of eternal, agonizing, and relentless fear? In other words, could I love a God that I could just as easily hate? And worse yet, One who I could not even begin to understand or figure out. Remember, we are insecure creatures. If you’ve ever loved an unpredictable person you know how scary that can be. But at least there is some limit to how much they can hurt you. Now imagine knowingly choosing to love the Ultimate Unpredictable and Infinite Being. Can’t you see how for someone who is insecure that can open the door to limitless opportunities to get hurt. What’s hell if it isn’t the idea of being eternally hurt?
After asking myself those questions, I was surprised that my answer was, “Yes.” Yes I could love a God who I could just as easily hate based on what I had been told about “Him” and that’s when 1 John 4:18-20 clicked for me:
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. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
I am capable of love because Love created me. The fear that this world fosters is the antithesis of this Love. That which had no power of its own to create me is what threatens to destroy me. But the only way that it could destroy me is if it first convinced me that I was not lovable. It is an effect pretending to be a cause and out of its insecurity, it acts to deny me my birthright and make me work to receive what has been given to me freely. It feeds me lies and makes a liar out of me. “There’s not enough love in the world,” it seethes. “Whatever one receives is a threat to your own receiving. So get yours and screw everyone else. And one more thing. You’re all going to die. AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!! Boogity woogity.” And that is the trick that makes us hate each other without cause and believe God cosigns our insanity. But here infused in the scriptures is that line, ” Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
So with that being said, why do I say fearing God is a privilege. Well as I said in the video, most of us treat God like a person on drugs treats their mother. If you have ever seen that, it is a crazy thing. I could say, we treat God like a person on drugs treats everyone who loves them, but usually only a mother loves their addicted child so much that they will find the capacity to believe in that child no matter how many times they think it will take for them to turn around. Only a mother will give up everything to try and save that child and even sometimes sacrifice their relationship with the other children to go after the one who went astray. Only a mother will threaten that child with everything in their arsenal even down to kicking that child out, never speaking to them again, and calling the police when they come around while simultaneously being willing to die if they thought it would give their insane child a chance to turn around and go in a positive direction. Only a mother will look at their ungrateful, thieving, lying, abusing child and use their last breath to pray for that child. I’ve seen it. It is possible. So if that is possible for a human, then what is God capable of doing in the name of love? I don’t know. But what I am coming to consider is that perhaps the fear of God is a gift God offers us as an alternative to fearing the world–the net effect of which is if we fear the One who loves us the most then we will find that we actually have nothing to fear.