Fear isn’t a subject which gets much of a look in around Christmas, but for many of us, it’s there: Will everything be ready on time? Is it good enough? Will everyone get on? How will we manage to pay for it all? And then there are all the emotions that New Year’s Eve can bring….
Fear comes in many guises: anxiety over jobs, money, status; insecurity in our identity and relationships; fear of being alone; fear of illness and death; fear of future – whatever it may hold. It is foolish to deny or belittle fear, especially when it can seem so prevalent in the world around us, in our own lives and lives of others. But that’s exactly what we do – we try to laugh away our fear, supress it or simply pretend it’s not there. But it is.
If we’re not careful so much of how we behave can be driven by fear of what people will think of us, or what will happen in the future. Fear lies behind consumerism, we buy things not only because they are needed or nice, but to shore up our identity, to make us feel good and others respect or envy us. It also drives many of the other negative characteristics of our society today. It’s not just needing more money to buy more and more things that makes so many of us work so hard, for many that’s also driven by fear of job loss or being considered inadequate at work. And that’s before we get to the impact on fear on our attitudes to strangers, to immigration…
The Christian tradition teaches that perfect love drives out fear. That can specifically be wrong fear of God, a fear of punishment. When we come to understand that God is not a God of punishment – “you did this, you didn’t do that” – but first and foremost a God of love, then a wrong fear of God is corrected. May be that some of us need to hear that, or to hear it afresh today.
But is it also true more widely? Given all the fear we see in the world and in our own lives, how can we say perfect love drives out fear? Is it true?
The first thing to note is that this world is not perfect, yet. Christians believe that Jesus came, lived and died to put an end to sin and death, the things that cut us off from God and each other. But that has not happened, in its entirety, yet. There are very many good reasons to be afraid. But we can also look at the world and say, with confidence, “this is not how it was meant to be” and “this is not how it ends”. Love WILL drive out fear.
But is also useful to remember that love CAN drive out fear, and that can be our lived reality now. That’s not to make light of what can be a very difficult and painful area for many of us – our experience of love in this present world is not complete, and never perfect. But yet, even as I may feel as if I’m one of the most fearful people around, I can still remind myself that, as love is seen in me, it will drive out fear.
In every day there are actions we can take, to choose love and so to banish fear.Why not try to notice today when you are fearful, bring that fear to your attention, write it down. Then ask yourself, how can I seek love – from others, or for others – which can help to counter that fear. Is there an action I need to take to make that a reality?
Jane Perry. Thirty-something (just!) dreamer and conspirator. Mum to Jacob (7) and Tom (9), and wife to Will, in Lewes, East Sussex. Everything else, including theology, mission studies and social policy research, in my spare time.