Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video.
One of the favourite verses requested for weddings is 1 John 4: 18, there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. I had a wedding several years ago where there had been an unfortunate misprint on the order of service. At the rehearsal the reader was just about to read from the Gospel of John 4: 18, a verse from Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well, “the fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband!” It was fortunate I was more than usually alert to stop it ruining the day.
Fear is regarding in the Bible as being toxic to our relationship with God and other people, almost as if fear rather than hate is the opposite of love. On numerous occasions Jesus told his disciples, “do not be afraid.” He said that in circumstances where fear and anxiety would be the logical response to circumstances. For example, when the disciples realised people really were out to do them harm; when they were anxious about where the next meal was coming from, and when they encountered unequivocal demonstrations of God’s power in healings, exorcisms, the transfiguration and resurrection. Paul also, at particularly challenging points in his ministry, when all seemed lost, received the encouragement not to be afraid.
As we grind on in this crisis, particularly with growing numbers of cases, I think people are afraid. It’s a fear that can paralyse and prevent rational decision making. The problem is it that without a faith in the big story of God’s dealings with the world fear can all too easily overcome us. If Richard Dawkins is right and we are nothing more that the result of blind chance operating over billions of years of evolution, then fear in the face of a threat to life is perfectly sensible. It will drive you to hoard food, withdraw from your neighbour and look out for yourself and those closest to you.
Of course, most people don’t take things to that extreme. We are all made in the image of God and deep down there is an instinct that life means more than that. But when people say, “everything happens for a reason and that we all go somewhere after death” its not an inference from evolutionary biology it’s a residue of our Christian heritage. Folk find it very difficult to truly follow a godless world view to its logical conclusion. If you believe we’re an evolutionary accident its just wishful thinking.
Now, I think that when people say, everything happens for a reason, and there is a potential place in heaven for everyone (with the possible exception of Hitler, Pol Pot, Genghis khan and the like) I think they are on to something. I think that because in the scriptures we not only get to read the end of the story but also something of the grand plan that God has enacted to get there. I would encourage us not to be fearful, not because Christians have a naturally sunny disposition or because we are glass half full types, but because Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. What follows from that is the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts by faith. We affirm these things when we gather to worship not because God needs a little encouragement, but to remind ourselves that they are true and the basis of our hope.
Our spiritual forbears as listed in the letter to the Hebrews, those great heroes of faith, approached this world without fear because they had their eyes fixed on a further horizon: an eternity beyond this one. In Christ we believe that last great enemy, death itself, has been defeated. Our society is petrified by death. We Christians should not be. I absolutely don’t believe COVID is some deliberate smiting of humanity by God. In one sense it’s a sad outworking of humanities abuse of the planet, destroying the natural world so species once separated come together and viruses can jump from one to another mutating in the process. The pre-existing economic injustices of our world magnify it. It affects the poor disproportionately to the wealthy.
But not only do we believe in a God who in Christ has conquered death but who is redeeming this broken world and bringing in a new kingdom of justice and peace. He invites us to participate courageously with his spirit in bringing this about. So, do not fear, Christ is with us. Do not fear, Christ is working his purposes out in us and through us and through the circumstances of our lives both positive and difficult. Do not fear even death because Christ has conquered it. I have had the privilege a few times in my ministry to be there at the point where someone full of faith slips from this world into the next one. These are holy and peaceful moments, where there is a sense that the veil between earth and heaven is stretched very thin.
There is no fear in love, and perfect love casts out fear.
Have a good week and may the hope of the resurrection set you free from fear and free to love as Christ loved us.