There’s a lot of fear around. Understandably so. Fear holds us back from harm, fear waves its arms frantically in front of our faces, so we don’t walk into danger. We stay at home because we’re afraid of getting sick, of spreading the virus. We make sensible decisions, considering the circumstances.
But have you noticed another kind of fear inside yourself, a deeper fear, a core fear? Forgive me for naming the elephant in the room here… We’re talking about the fear of death. It stops us in our tracks because it cripples us. It threatens to trip us up whichever way we turn, whatever we try to decide. In the coming weeks and months, though we may well need our healthy fears to guide us, I think it could be crucial that we walk free — profoundly free — from the fear of death.
Soaking in some truth, as written by Michelle Ruetschle, is helping me take the first steps. May it help you too! (Shared with permission.)
“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 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. We love because he first loved us.
- 1 John 4:16–18
Perfect love casts out fear. This phrase has become a platitude among Christians, used to exhort and admonish us around every fear. We are made to understand that if we love God and know his love, we should not experience fear of any kind. The bar seems impossibly high, and for many of us, John’s comforting words have the opposite effect. We mentally slink away from them, accompanied by an uneasy sense of shame.
We miss that John is addressing a specific fear. He is speaking of the day of judgment, of that grand moment when our entire lives come under the holy gaze of a perfect God. John is talking here about our big picture fears, about death and eternity. As we read his words, we would do well to take our telescopes off of our smaller fears and widen our lens. We are looking now at the entirety of our existence; not just our earthly lives but our eternal destinies. We are assured that we can look at the big picture with confidence.
Now the words come into focus. God sees us in our mortality as if we were Christ. Christ, having absorbed every sin, eliminates the need for our judgment. In that final moment, we stand before God cloaked in Jesus’ righteousness, whose sole motivation is love. It is an ostentatious image, an extravagant vision of love that engulfs our earthly lives in a far richer, greater eternal destiny. It is a love that stretches on forever, guaranteed to us no matter what we’ve done, no matter how soon or how late we’ve come. The thief on the cross and the faithful disciple receive the same excellent gift.
The fearlessness we are given about our eternal selves, can and does give us courage in this life. It allowed Paul to sing in a jail cell, and Stephen to brave a death by stoning. It is what motivates us to run the race. Hebrews 11 commends those of great faith because they “longed for a better country, a heavenly one”. That was the hope that kept them going, despite overwhelming fears and failures. It is this grand assurance that puts our smaller fears into perspective.
Toward the end of his letter, John tells us that he wrote these things, “so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Take a minute to imagine what it will be like to live eternally in perfect love. It is your certain destiny, no matter how you’ve engaged with today. Your worries, your failures, your selfishness, your lack of trust are engulfed in a never-ending, wave upon wave, perpetual, timeless, light-giving love that no fear or condemnation or darkness of any kind can ever penetrate. Hallelujah.
We cannot thank you enough, loving Father, for this extravagant gift: your perfect love through Christ. Thank you that we do not have to fear death or punishment, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. These have been completely eliminated by you. Help us widen our lens today and draw courage from that eternal perspective, to taste your perfect love that never ends. May it satisfy our hunger and quench our thirst. We are amazed and grateful. Amen.”