“There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear…”
—First John 4:18
My wife and I spent Thanksgiving in Estes Park, Colorado this year. It was a beautiful trip. We all have environments that recharge our batteries and heap spiritual Miracle Grow on our souls. The mountains and the trees do that for me, especially the Rockies and the Aspens. On Thanksgiving Day I embarked on a solo hike just north of the Black Canyon Creek as I wanted to get some time alone in the mountains with God. While I spent time praying on my ascent, He did not begin speaking until I got onto the harder trail that branched off the easier one. Once on the more difficult path, I only encountered one other person during that 2-hour portion of the hike. It wasn’t until I was alone with Him that He opened up to me.
“I want to talk to you about love, Casey,”
“Okay,” I replied, “what do you want to say about love?”
“Love casts out fear.”
I paused for a moment because, to be honest, I was expecting more than a four-worded statement. Surely the Source of love has more to say on the topic, right? Then it all hit me. It was as if I was “plugged-in” just like Neo was in The Matrix. All of the sudden I knew what He was saying to me about love. All of the sudden, I knew the how.
Love and Fear: Two Different Atmospheres
Just as restaurants, homes, and office spaces have an atmosphere we can pick up on, so do love and fear. What are their two atmospheres? What’s the chief characteristic of love? What’s the principal component of fear?
Before we answer that question, I believe it would be helpful to understand that every action finds its root in either love or fear. Why don’t we approach our boss about the promotion we desire? Why do we live in the mundane instead of pursuing what makes us come alive? Why don’t we open up to our friends about the struggles we’re enduring? The answer is fear. Fear is what glues us to our seat when we long to stand.
Why are we willing to sacrifice for a friend in need? Why will we go above and beyond when things at work get scattered and hectic? Why are we ready to stop and help when someone approaches us in distress? The answer is love. Love is the factor that makes a sacrifice a joy.
Also, other aspects of existence find their root in either fear or love. Doubt, for example, is rooted in fear. So is anxiety, shame, condemnation, and self-righteousness. As a result, these negative expressions feed off of fear’s atmosphere just as trees feed off of carbon dioxide. Contrarily, hope is rooted in love. As is mercy, patience, peace, and gratitude. In the same way, these positive expressions feed off of love’s atmosphere. Mercy and patience cannot exist without love. Doubt and anxiety cannot exist without fear. Can the same be said of love and fear? Does love feed off of its very own atmosphere? Does fear?
The Battle: Intimacy vs. Isolation
The “light bulb moment” on the hike was nothing more than a realization of the simplicity of love. The characteristics that make love love and fear fear are the very atmospheres they carry. Love is not love if it does not possess intimacy. Likewise, fear is not fear without isolation. Simply put, love cannot exist outside of intimacy and fear cannot exist outside of isolation, for they each feed off of those two realities. The nature of love is intimacy, and the nature of fear is isolation.
This truth becomes self-evident and easily recognizable with a little recollection. As an example, think of a moment where love was demonstrated to you. Perhaps you were a child, and you had just experienced your first wipe-out on your bike. Was love demonstrated by a parent standing in the distance offering shouts of consolation, or was love demonstrated by the parent coming in close and getting intimate with your pain, invading your catatonia? Or, think of a point where you demonstrated love to another. Perhaps your toddler is experiencing nightmares and crying out for you to come and save them. How do you express your love for them at that moment? Are they eased by a shout from your bedroom, or does their peace require your intimacy?
Intimacy, by nature, drives out isolation; that is the how behind “love casts out fear.” Similarly, intimacy is also what begets change. I recently heard a wise woman say, “You can’t get pregnant without intimacy.” If you want a baby, intimacy is required. If you wish to grow, you must first become intimate with your lack. If you desire to gain understanding, you must get intimate with your ignorance. It is not until we look through the magnifying glass of Intimacy that we can see the beauty of change.
It would be remiss of me to speak of intimacy and not at the very least touch on the most significant expression of intimacy humanity has ever known—Jesus. You see, dear reader, your heavenly Papa introduced His own intimate love for you in this way: in that, while you were devoted to your own destruction, Christ died for you. This act was to, as the apostle Paul repeatedly wrote, “reconcile the whole world to Himself.” A sage once wrote,
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.”
—John 3:16-17, The Message
And a mystic once penned,
“Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.” … “We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”
—Second Corinthians 5:14-15, 19-20, The Message
My friend, you were created for relationship, for intimacy. Everything in and about you beckons for intimacy with your Creator. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that we long to be deeply known by the only One who can deeply know. We long for true intimacy. Let us embrace the One who is love incarnate, for God indeed is love (see First John 4:8).