Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Love Casts out Fear

I keep coming back to themes of courage versus fear. A book I just finished turned on this theme in the last several pages--The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz. The main characters were on a collision course against the antagonists, and one of the characters suggested fleeing. It would have been wise, and certainly the author wouldn't have had much of a book if the protagonists had done just that, but it was cast in spiritual terms. God was opening doors for them, leading and dragging them through, and the female lead said they had to act.

For Koontz, it was more than just a clever way to make sure there was a climax. He converted to Catholicism some time ago. He means it. The courage to act is a virtue. St. John the Apostle writes, "By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love," (1 Joh. 4:17-18 ESV). Failing to do, to act, to speak, to defend the defenseless, to do what is right is often--usually--sin.

It is the rancid fruit of unbelief. It is the rancid fruit of believing that God is not good, that bad things will happen, that your life will be worse if you do such and such. That the good, the true, the necessary is not worth it.

Of course following your conscience, doing the right thing, going through that open door, can bring suffering. God does not promise to spare us from that. He promises it: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" (Matt. 16:24-26).

But how do you know if you are stalling from fear and distrust, rather than avoiding something that is bad? How do you know if God has opened the door and not our enemy?

First, we can be absolutely clear if the revealed Scriptures speak to it. In other words, if the choice is to lie or not lie at work, we know that liars do not inherit the kingdom (Rev. 21:8) so it is clear.

Second, we should be praying about it.

Third, if it is very unclear, we should involve our Pastors.

Fourth, we should remember to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16). The fool tears down his barn before he builds another. The fool listens to himself, the wise consults advice (Pro. 12:15). Make plans, be prepared, but always trust in the Lord's guidance.