Love and fear share a polar opposite kinship, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18 NRSV).
If we’re honest, when we grieve most of us experience a kind of fear that has little to do with love. Some of us live in a state of chronic fear that feels like quiet desperation, some with low-grade fear that causes us to be constantly on the defensive. Some of us live through grief with a fair amount of equanimity, yet often we’re ambushed by short episodes of fear that threaten to unhinge us completely. Grief, fear, and love – strange bedfellows, indeed.
In grief there’s a kind of fluid balance between fear and love. Death upends our world – nothing’s the same, everything’s changed. It’s the spark that ignites our greatest fears. We’re full of countless, sometimes nameless questions – for some we’ll find answers, for others not. In the unknown there’s always fear.
And so our grief dilemma is whether we succumb to our fears and live in darkness or find the light of God’s perfect love that casts out fear. This is the faith part of our grief journey - the stretching, growing, trying, seeking part that makes us better for our pursuit of fearless love. And our ongoing quest for perfection in love is how we live on without the daily presence of the one we now grieve.
In our darker moments of pain and sorrow some of us may feel that the death of our loved one is a punishment. This was my initial, knee-jerk reaction when my husband died. It took a while to get my arms around the spiritual and biblical truth that God does not punish us, that illness, accidents, and death are not personal. Yet for a long while there was within me a very real sense that I was being punished. I grew up in a home ruled by fear and punishment, so I’m well-acquainted with the consequences of imperfect love.
Many who grieve are emotionally conflicted after the death of a loved one, especially when fear and love co-exist within a relationship. If we find the courage to assess the damage to our heart and soul, release the past, and rely on God for healing and wholeness, we’re better able to deconstruct the walls we’ve so carefully erected to protect us from the assaults of fear and punishment with which we’ve lived. This is how we begin to open ourselves to a different kind of love, a love more perfect and courageous than we’ve ever known.
And so let’s reflect for a moment on perfect love, the kind that casts out fear. If you’ve ever had a child or held a child or the one you’re grieving is an infant or a child, you know first-hand that children aren’t born with fear. You’ve felt the sweet breath of God’s perfect love, the unconditional love of an innocent child that trusts completely with no fear. This is about as close to perfect love as any of us will ever know on this earth. This is God’s love, the fearless love with which we’re born, the perfect love that speaks heart to heart and binds our soul together forever with those we love. The miracle of God’s perfect love gives us comfort in our grief and assurance that there is life after death.
God is love. We’re not intended to live in fear or with fear. We’re created to love God above all else and live in the kind of perfect love that casts out every fear left over from the past that threatens the perfection of love in our life today. And though for the moment we may fear too easily as we sort out life all around us, fear is not the place or state in which we will find our future. We are to “go on toward perfection” (Hebrews 6:1 NRSV), to live in perfect love, God’s greatest gift to us all.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.