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