Christian Counseling: A Romantic Theology of Fear

What Christians, sometimes the majority, believe amazes me, and that, on occasion, has included me. How easy it is to disturb Scriptural truth and tell it to move over for our own comforting version. There are so many, I am enticed to write a book. Maybe I will.

Until then, I will occasionally comment on a particular romantic theology. In 1 John 4:18 we read, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” How consolable it is to believe we can be perfected or complete in love, sufficient to be able to deliberately toss aside fear (Greek definition) because we can attain a love mature enough to bypass any and all fear. All this is true, but save one part. The only romantic falsehood in the previous statement is that we can overcome any and all fear.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Have you or anyone you know ever matured to the point of permanently eliminating all fears? I have yet to meet such a person. Far from it, we all have many fears, and they change throughout life. Further, this kind of thinking sets people up to also believe if fear can be overcome so should all troubling feelings, such as grief, depression and anger—a slippery slope. But doesn’t it sound romantically wonderful, to live without ever having your feathers ruffled?

A person can learn to imperfectly cut off emotions from consciousness, but to be able to cast out all fear is unachievable. As a matter of fact, believing such leaves people with the reality of failing, leading to confusion, doubt, anxiety and guilt.

So, how are we to correctly understand John’s words? To what fear is he referring?

Location, location, location is a primary teaching for successful real estate investment. Similarly, context, context, context is the call for a proper theology. Consider the context of John’s writings regarding “perfect love casts out fear.” He is not referring to any and all fear, but to a particular fear. The fear is about whether or not a person is securely protected from the coming judgment (punishment) through salvation. John lays out for us the antidote to overcoming this fear: sufficient agape (unconditional) love for God and people, the witness of the Spirit within, abiding in God, confession that Jesus is the Son of God, keeping the commandments and not practicing sin (4:7 – 5:13).

I wish the romantic idea of being able to overcome all fears were true for this life. Then again, if we had no fear, would anyone care about or have the motivation to avoid negative consequences, including hell?

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