Love Trumps Fear

Fear is a powerful and efficient motivator. But it’s not a good motivator.

Fear is ill-equipped to motivate us toward Good for one simple reason: we are called into love, and love casts out fear.

This is a powerful truth that can be applied to a myriad of different situations, but the dialog and discussion ugly arguments surrounding this year’s political races has me thinking about it a lot lately.

Donald Trump has built an entire campaign on a foundation of fear: fear of Mexican immigrants, fear of Muslims, fear of black people, fear of Latinos, fear of strong women… his entire platform (to the extent which he has one) is nothing more than scapegoating minority populations to satisfy and stoke anger. It’s inherently driven by fear.

I don’t want this blog to get sidetracked with pro- or anti-Trump arguments — I point this out simply as an illustration of a larger point: where fear reigns, love cannot.

In fact, Donald Trump actually released a campaign ad on the subject of immigration that literally ended with these words: “Forget love. It’s time to get tough!”

This, then, is the message of Trump: Forget love. Embrace fear. Be afraid of the “other” and let that fear drive your decisions.

It’s not just the message of Trump, of course. Politicians have used this strategy for decades – probably for centuries – because selfless love would hamstring their campaigns. Stoking fear to gin up votes is part and parcel of the political process. Fear the terrorists. Fear corporations. Fear global warming. Pick your poison and swallow it whole, because earthly power thrives on fear. Trump just uses this more blatantly and more powerfully than those who came before him.

It was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, a man by the name of John, who wrote the famous truth that “love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). Literally, love throws out fear. Love forcefully dumps fear in the trash can, where it belongs. The two repel one another like oil and water.

As we watch this political season dripping with fear (on all sides – Trump was just the easiest and most obvious illustration), something ironic happens: people opposed to fear-driven politicians react with new fear of their own. This is how I responded to Trump’s ascendance at first – I became afraid at what might happen if he actually got elected president. It’s as if we don’t actually believe that God is all-powerful or in control – so we see a self-feeding cycle of fear that perpetually grows, effectively insulating us more and more from the liberating power of love.

This idea of fear and love applies to infinitely more than politics, of course. Choosing who to vote for based on fear results in lousy decisions in the voting booth, and choosing anything else in your life based on fear results in equally lousy decisions. Whether it’s the powerful fear of failure, the fear of losing friends, fear of making a fool of yourself, fear of getting hurt, or any number of other things we can be afraid of, we oftentimes rob ourselves of the abundant life God offers when we choose to be guided by fear rather than by a courageous, selfless love.

Here’s the dirty trick of fear, though: fear does motivate well in the short-term and it does produce fruit quickly. But that fruit spoils just as rapidly and ultimately leaves us with nothing. Love – selfless, agape love into which we are called as Christians – does much, much slower work in us. It motivates well in the long-term. It takes a long time to produce fruit, but when it does, that fruit is ripe and good and remains forever. We are called to choose the slow work of love over the deceivingly rapid work of fear.

All of which is somewhat ironic, because many of us have unwittingly subscribed to a religious system that has built itself on fear. We can be guilty of using the fear of hell, the fear of punishment, or the fear of disappointing God to motivate people — and then acting surprised when the changes they force themselves to make don’t last.

We are called to choose the slow work of love over the deceivingly rapid work of fear. Click To Tweet

Instead of a fear-based religious system, Jesus invites us into a selfless love-based Kingdom. The difference between those two cannot be overstated. They will lead you in diametrically opposed directions: one directly into the heart of God, and the other directly down the path of those who Jesus attacked for “shutting people out of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We who are called into love are too easily duped into following fear. It’s why way too many Christians during these election campaigns seem to say, “Screw the fruit of Spirit. What’s their stance on brown people and gays?” No wonder the message of “Forget love!” resonates with so many people who are supposed to be following Jesus.

Lord, have mercy.

But again, it’s not just politics. If we are honest with ourselves, there are a number of areas in our lives where we’ve bought the message of “Forget love!” and find ourselves submitting instead to fear.

So let’s do something about it. Let’s choose love and dump fear in the trash can. Let’s proclaim with our words, attitudes, and actions that we believe the millennia-old truth that love dispels fear… that love trumps fear.

Will you join with me in proclaiming that truth in our lives? Here’s what I propose: whenever somebody tells us something designed to prey on our fears, let’s act to spread hope and life and love instead of fear.

With the tumultuous political scene as a backdrop, I’ve sat down with both of my boys recently and explained to them the concept of the charity Kiva – how we give money that Kiva turns into microloans so people in impoverished countries can start businesses and rise out of poverty. I showed them all of the businesses our family has helped start and all the people who have borrowed and paid back our money. Then I let them choose the next family and next business we would help. I did this as a lesson for them in giving to others, and I did it as a reminder to me that the Kingdom of God is not brought about through the presidency or through fear or through people arguing about who is “right” – the Kingdom is brought about by our small acts of selfless love.

So I invite you to join the movement and proclaim that love trumps fear. Instead of being afraid, choose instead to do something to spread love. Give to Kiva to help lift someone out of poverty or to charity:water to change somebody’s life by giving them clean water. Give to one of the many other charities spreading life and hope and love. Serve a neighbor. Take a meal to a homeless person. Invite somebody to stay in your spare bedroom. Buy the meal or coffee for the person behind you at the drive through. Bring cookies to your neighbors. Donate to or volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. Leave a ridiculous tip. Write someone a card or a letter just to tell them you appreciate them.

By doing these small, selfless acts of love, we are giving fear the middle finger, we are becoming who God intends us to be, we are enjoying abundant life in his Kingdom, and we are giving others a small glimpse of what that life is like. This is how the Kingdom of God spreads. Let’s call fear’s bluff and become a community of people known for love. #lovetrumpsfear

God and Sin

The empire of evangelicalism is built on the idea of a holy God who cannot allow sin in his presence. It then uses fear and control as mechanisms to convince people that only they have the solution to this dilemma.

But… as we read about Jesus in the pages of Scripture, we see Jesus, who was God, do exactly that: allow sin in his presence. Furthermore, he not only allowed sin in his presence, he went out of his way to welcome sin into his presence.

Therefore, one of two things must be true: either Jesus is not God, or God can and does indeed allow sin in his presence.

We are so focused on the the holiness of God that we forget the very essence of God: that he is sacrificial love. God’s holiness does not demand that sin be cast out of his presence because his love demands a relationship with the sinner.

Sin is not the main problem or the ultimate enemy; death is. We are not fighting to overturn and end sin, we fight to overturn and end death. Even if there were miraculously no sin in the world tomorrow, death would still exist. And so we aim not to convince with fear and control, but to set free with life and love.

Because that is what we see Jesus doing on page after page of our story, and what we, as his disciples, are to imitate.

Save St. Petersburg!

I received an email solicitation from a Christian organization (which will remain unnamed) this week that shocked and disgusted me. It was entitled, “What will religion look like in 2060?” and went on to say this:

Conservative Christians will be treated as second class citizens, much like African Americans were prior to civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

Family as we know it will be drastically changed with the state taking charge of the
children beginning at birth.

Marriage will include two, three, four or any number of participants. Marriage will not be important, with individuals moving in and out of a “family” group at will.

Churchbuildings will be little used, with many sold to secular buyers and the money
received going to the government.

Churches will not be allowed to discuss any political issues, even if it affects the
church directly.

Tax credit given to churches and non-profit organizations will cease.

Christian broadcasting will be declared illegal based on the separation of church and
state. The airwaves belong to the government, therefore they cannot be used for any
religious purpose.

We will have, or have had, a Muslim president.

Cities with a name from the Bible such as St. Petersburg, Bethlehem, etc. will be forced to change their name due to separation of church and state.

Groups connected to any religious affiliation will be forced out of health care. Health
centers get tax money from the state, making it a violation of church and state.

The email then ends with a link to “GET INVOLVED!”, presumably to stop these horrific things from occurring.

This email struck me as so wrong on so many different levels. It begins with that very first line, where I’m sure any African Americans who read the email will appreciate being exploited so blatantly and callously. And of course, it almost immediately veers into the realm of politics, with the ever-present bogeyman of “the state” taking away our freedoms. This time around, it’s the specter of our government not even letting us raise our own children that is meant to scare us.

Then it gets a little silly – marriage will be “any number of participants”? If that were even somehow to happen, I’m sure King David, or Abraham, or Gideon, or Caleb — or any hero of the faith, really, would be interested to know it so they could move to America and bring their harems with them.

Churches will not be allowed to discuss political issues? GREAT! Sign me up for that! Tax credits given to churches will cease? Oh, the horror! Christian broadcasting will be declared illegal? How in the world did the gospel ever spread across the world before we harnessed the power of radio and television waves?

And this one is my favorite: We will have, or have had, a Muslim president.

Ho. ly. crap.

If that happens, we’d better just hide in a cave, I guess, and pray that Jesus comes quickly to rescue us because truly, all hope is lost. I mean, it’s not like God used a pagan Persian king to rescue his people from Babylon, or had three pagan wise men give Jesus gifts when he an infant, or, y’know, used the pagan Roman government to accomplish the salvation of the world. God definitely could not work through a (*gasp*) Muslim president.

And to top it all off, our new government will apparently force the city of St. Petersburg to change its name. I could have stuck it out through the no politics in church thing, or the loss of tax credits… but to live in a world with no St. Petersburg? Perish the thought!

All sarcasm aside, though, there is something at a much deeper level that bothers me about this solicitation — and that is this: as Christians, too often we seem incapable of casting a positive vision, instead relying on negative emotions and fear to motivate people to action.

To me, not only is that horrible skills of persuasion, it does not reflect the Kingdom of God. It’s not the sharing of good news — it’s the sharing of horrific (supposedly) news designed to elicit fear, something that Jesus aimed to “cast out” through his love.

Solicitations such as this one create a bunker mentality, an us-versus-them world where we must keep ourselves unsullied from the darkness which surrounds us. It attempts to force us more inward, rather than inviting us to go into all the world and be, as Jesus was, a friend to sinners. It denies the power that (as the Apostle Paul wrote) “God’s kindness leads to repentance” — replacing ‘kindness’ with ‘political action’ and replacing ‘repentance’ with ‘making everyone look, believe, and act just like us.’

It is exhibit A in the case of how awful we have become at the task of vision casting. Rather than speaking of abundant life or buried treasures discovered in fields or great feasts and banquets, we turn instead to dire doomsday prophecies of a future where God abandons us.

What if instead of casting a vision of how horrible things are 47 years from now, this organization chose to talk about all the beautiful things that were happening because their group was working? What if the future held hope and joy rather than doom and gloom, because we serve a living and loving God?

Here’s the truth: God is picking up the pieces and putting his creation back together again. He is Emmanuel — God with us — always, not just for brief moments in time and not just if we force America to be a “Christian nation” again (whatever that means). Here’s some more good news: even if, some way, somehow, this bogeyman-laced vision of the future came true, God is still with us. God will still be present, working, loving, restoring.

God does not, and has never, required a government to accomplish his purposes. He requires you. And me. Living out his love and kindness that oftentimes changes the world in small, almost imperceptible ways — but that in totality help his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Don’t live in fear. Don’t react out of fear. Don’t vote out of fear. Don’t donate money out of fear. Let God’s perfect love cast out all fear and overflow through you as you join him in the holy work of restoration.