Have no fear!
War in Europe!
Cost of living crisis!
Heatwaves and climate change!
It seems that the headlines are never free from alarming predictions of apocalyptic magnitude. In this post I don’t intend to discuss any of the specific issues listed above. Each is worthy of careful consideration. Each is a matter of immense importance for the lives affected. Each should concern us and move us to prayer and responses of compassionate care for those most affected and (in some cases at least) of wisdom in making lifestyle changes.
What has struck me, though, is how much of the reporting of these issues is dominated by fear.
My friend, Mark Stirling, has made that observation to me several times. I have been slower than him to pick up on it, but he is absolutely right! There seems to be a dominant note of fear in our collective psyche, or at least among those who report the news and, arguably, also those who set public policy or decide what constitutes a crisis or emergency. Most recently, I realised this when my thirteen year old daughter, not normally given to comment on the news, asked whether the world was going to burn to a crisp (my paraphrase) after we had spent the hottest day on record in the UK trudging uncomfortably through a sweltering London. I assured her that God is in control and He would bring the world to an end in His way at his time (she smartly responded that maybe this was how he was going to do it, but I won’t try to report the whole conversation!)
How are Christians to respond to this climate of fear? There is much we could say, but one verse will do for now:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
There is a promise for every Christian to hold on to. We live not in fear but in the love of God! Let this truth saturate your soul. If you have limited time to read further, just relax in that beautiful truth and skip the next two paragraphs.
For those who have a little more time, though, let me make one explanatory comment and add one caveat. First the explanatory comment. This is not actually a whole verse, but even if it were we should not rip it from its context. In the surrounding verses, John is speaking about the confidence we can have on the say of judgement. Since we confess Christ as Saviour and He abides in us, we need not fear condemnation on that day. The fear of punishment by God is gone so we can live without fear in the love of God. If we have fear of punishment, we are not perfected in love. So, John is not speaking about all fear, but specifically the fear of coming under God’s judgement for our sins. If we struggle with that fear, we need to come to a more mature (or perfect) understanding of God’s love and rest in it. We should look closely at 1 John 1 and recognise that our sins are forgiven on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Now the caveat. John wants us to have assurance of our salvation. He is encouraging us towards confidence in Christ. But if you read everything he says on the subject, you’ll see that he is careful to explain that we cannot have that confidence and assurance if we have sin in our lives which we don’t confess openly to God, or if there is no evidence in us of a growing love for God and for our brothers and sisters. It is our obedience to Christ and especially to His core command to love one another that shows the reality of our salvation and when we see it we grow in assurance. That is not at all to say that assurance is something we earn (I can be sure because I am obedient), but our subjective experience of being sure of God’s love and our salvation is dependent on our obedience (my obedience is evidence of God’s love at work in me).
Now, back to the question of the headlines. Christians will face these headlines differently than those who do not know the love of God in Christ. We will not be fearful, but confident. We will not respond according to the impulses of self-protection but in love for others. We will not be swept along by the tide of fear or bury our heads in the sand of wishful thinking, but we will stand firm in our hope in Christ, our faith in Christ and our love for Christ. We will share with those who are fearful whatever material help we can now but also the wonderful message of the love of God that casts out fear.