Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).
Anxiety is something we all struggle with and in some cases can debilitate and rule us. Anxiety, though, is the symptom of a more deep-seated fear. Fear seems to control many aspects of society, whether it is the fear of intolerance and bigotry, or the fear of terrorists. Fear runs deep in every society, including our own.
Cultures of Fear
Most people in our culture do not fear whether they will have a warm bed to sleep on or if there will be enough food or water for the day (though there are many who do). We can assume that the basic needs of life will be given to us or that we even deserve them. Yet, there is another kind of fear that drives us and our society we fear losing our status at work, at home, in the culture, or in our churches. The fear of having a bad reputation or not having influence causes an anxiety that undergirds our entire way of life.
Whether we are seeking to have a good reputation, accumulate possessions, or gain the respect that status and influence give us, our achievements in life move us subtly to fear anything that might cause us to lose our way of living. This fear often drives our daily lives in very subtle ways, creating a paralyzing anxiety.
Richard Beck, a professor of psychology, outlines this neurotic anxiety that drives us:
Feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, obsessions, perfectionism, ambitiousness, envy, narcissism, jealousy, rivalry, competitiveness, self-consciousness, guilt, and shame are all examples of neurotic anxiety, and they all relate to how we evaluate ourselves in our eyes and the eyes of others. (The Slavery of Death, 28–29)
Our American way of life seeks to blot out any sense of meaninglessness or helplessness. We have become obsessed with our own self-image and worth. This anxiety can be seen in how we view others and treat them. This collective anxiety at its very root is driven by a deeper fear, the fear of death.
The Fear of Death
The Bible says that it is through fear that we are enslaved to our desires and incapable of seeing God or each other in love and trust (Heb. 2:14–15). As Beck writes,
Our sense of life meaning and self-esteem, the very bedrock of our identities are actually forms of death-denial, an existential defense mechanism, an illusion to help us avoid the full force of our existential predicament. (p. 38)
We use anything we can get our hands on to deny this one reality — death is coming for us all. We really are not in control.
Fear drives humanity in all it says and does and even in how we use religion. Religion is often used to maintain the status quo, to appease some god, or drive out the fears we have in this life. We sometimes use religion, Christianity included, to keep our way of life from falling apart. We use religion to prop ourselves up in the eyes of others to be seen as holy and clean. Fear drives us away from others who look different, who act differently, or who might be from a different social class. Fear drives out love.
Our lifestyle choices, our budgets, building plans, and hopes are sadly driven by fear of the culture, fear of others, and this fear of death. Narcissism and anxiety are at the heart of our society, including how we use God to make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. And yet, this anxiety is the very thing Christ came to destroy and free us from. While we constantly attempt to build up walls to keep others out, Christ came to tear them down through a love that overcame even his enemies (Rom. 5:6–8).
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Christ] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb. 2:14–15; emphasis added)
Christ the Fear-Conqueror
While the world operates by the fear of death through vengeance and violence or according to karma, the kingdom of Christ is flourishing where God creates love, joy, hope, and peace by his Spirit (Gal. 5:22-ff.). Christ overcame our deepest fears and anxieties by overthrowing the power of death and destroying its sting of condemnation before God and the world (1 Cor. 15:55–57).
The kingdom of Christ is flourishing where God creates love, joy, hope, and peace by his Spirit (Gal. 5:22–ff.). Love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Joy drives out fear (John 15:11). The Spirit of Christ is seeking to remove fear in us and in the world, in order that the joy of the Lord might fill the world!
The gospel of Jesus frees us in a way that hardly makes sense in our day. In freeing us from this fear of death, we are freed from our gut reaction to defend our own name. We are freed from aggression or violent actions to keep the status quo. We are freed to have an identity that rises above the petty kingdoms of this world. We are freed to a vulnerability of love and self-sacrifice that seems like weakness. This is where the kingdom of God is seen in us.
We no longer need to fear disapproval from God or others. We have found the ultimate significance and meaning we could never achieve on our own, because we have been known and cherished by God himself (Gal. 4:9). His perfect love casts out all the fears that dwell in our hearts. All that will remain is his love.