Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Perfect love casteth out fear"

I have had my attention drawn to I John 4:18 repeatedly in the past few weeks, and as I prepare once again to testify in the Texas State Capitol against campus concealed carry this Thursday, I feel drawn to record a few thoughts about the resonance of those words in my life.

I am not a Greek scholar, but I understand that the love of which the apostle speaks is "teleia," and that this word refers to something that has been brought to completion, not something that is immutably, inhumanly perfect. It is a love to be aspired to, and perhaps to be glimpsed in moments of our full humanity. It is not a pill, a formula, or a magic spell, and it doesn't mean that a life without fear is the normal state for somebody who loves, any more than it is the normal state for anybody else. You cannot have love that is perfect in this sense unless you have known and experienced fear as an everyday companion, and have discovered the inadequacy of any other means of taming it.

Two very different circumstances these past two years have reminded me that many people are afraid to live in fear. It is very natural and very human to seek a way out that is neater and easier than this messy business of perfecting our love for each other. Thus, I have heard repeatedly since Barbara died that "there is a reason for everything that happens, and you have to believe that, even if you can't understand right now why this terrible thing has happened to you." I struggle with this statement, because I know those who make it mean well and honestly believe they give comfort by saying those words. If you are reading this now and are one of those people, please know that I understand.

I can state from hard experience, though, that there is probably nothing worse you can say to a bereaved person. That statement tells us that God is responsible for the death of our loved one: that God took him or her for reasons that are clear to God but that make no sense to the rest of us. If God is in full control of everything that happens in the universe, then fear is unnecessary and grief is insufficient. What this means, though, is that in order to cast out the fear of the random, unfathomable nature of everyday life, you have to make God a monster and then suggest that we conquer our own fear and grief by making our peace with that monstrosity. Such thinking cuts like daggers into the hearts of the bereaved. In it I hear the voice of fear, not that of faith.

I also hear the voice of fear in repeated statements that "the world [including college campuses] is a dangerous place, so I need a gun to protect myself." If this is your belief, then I would suggest that you are also yielding to fear and seeking an easy way out. You are seeking - and again, I understand, because this is human nature - to take control when reality counsels that you should learn to live with some degree of uncertainty instead.

If the Gospel teaches anything, it is that achieving such control is beyond our ability, but that with faith we can live in uncertainty, knowing that behind the randomness is a powerful force of love that alone deserves our trust and allegiance. Turning to anything else - either to the false god of total control or to the equally false god of violent self-defense - only serves to make our love less perfect than ever, and to move us further from the one God.

When I walk into the capitol building on Thursday, I will be wearing my love as conspicuously and as vulnerably as possible: not in a concealed holster or with any kind of assurance that my actions will achieve the desired results. If guns come to be openly allowed on college campuses - one of the safest and least fearsome places in our country - fear will have won an important victory and love will be correspondingly diminished. On Thursday I will be taking a step not just to try to prevent that disaster from happening, but to perfect my own love as well, in the knowledge that by so doing I am casting out fear from the world. I would appreciate your prayers.

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