There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
~1 John 4:18
JD and I have been militant in contending against fear over our unborn child. Together, we read/declare Psalm 91 over my stomach every night before bed, reminding our little one that “no evil will befall him/her” and “he/she will tread upon the lion and the adder.” Two weeks ago, I ordered a large, vinyl cutout of Isaiah 41:10 to adorn the wall of our baby room, reminding our baby that God is with him/her, and will strengthen and protect him/her. We proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our home and we plead His precious blood over each door and window; may this child rest in the security of the Most High!
Perhaps it is this focus on fear and peace that made 1 John 4:18 stand out to me so much when I read it. I am familiar with the first part of the verse, having heard it from my praying parents much of my life. However, I had never committed the second half involving torment to memory.
Out of curiousity, I looked up the Greek word “torment” here, and found that it it is kolasis. It literally translates, “correction, punishment, penalty.” John is making the case here that fear is directly related to our understanding–whether concious or subconscious–that in our own, filthy righteousness, we deserve every terrifying, horrible attack the enemy could throw at us to destroy our peace. Those nightmares about being pursued by a nameless, faceless dread are a product of our own realization that without the grace of God we are destined for an eternity of pain.
Why does perfect love cast out (literally, “to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls”) fear? John tells us earlier that God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). When the perfect, divine expression of the definition of love takes up residence in our life, He violently throws off the punishment we deserve, cleansing our conscience through His word and qualifying us to be one with Him. By living in fear (be it the “irrational” kind like of the dark or the “rational” kind like of hereditary diseases, job loss, etc.), we are really acknowleding that we have not perfected our understanding of who God is; we have not grasped the fullness of His redeeming work in us, but choose instead to live under the weight of what we deserved prior to surrendering to Him.
Psalm 23 says that goodness and mercy follow closely after us. The ESV footnote also translates that verse to say, “Only goodness and steadfast love will follow…” How our perception of the world change if we accepted that promise!
So how do we perfect our love and throw off the terror of a punishment no longer required of us? John explains a few verses earlier: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” 1 Jn. 4:12 When we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, His love is perfected in us and we are released from the dread of torment to come; instead, we abide in Him and are blessed to house His Spirit inside of us.
What would happen if we became a people who focused less on treating the symptoms of fear in ourselves and in our children and more on the root of the problem. What if, instead of rushing to leave on the closet light so the “bogeyman” stays at bay, we rushed to fill our children with the knowledge of a God who dwells in unapproachable light? What if we remembered that the One who feeds the sparrows knows where to get the resources to pay this month’s electric bill? What if we understood that the God who equipped the eagles with wings and taught them to make their nests in the heavens journeyd with us in every leg of our travels?
Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. ~Deut. 31:6