Everywhere I’ve traveled recently, adversity has been knocking on people’s doors and camping out. Or it’s hitting close to home when shootings occur in strip malls and movie theatres, racial tensions mount in our cities, and in war-torn places people have to leave their homes or send off loved ones to fight. In addition, we are waking up to seismic shifts in culture that have been building over time.
Fear can set in.
In Skyfall, James Bond meets a beautiful woman, Sévérine, who has been trafficked and lives under the constant watchful eye of her bodyguards. As Bond questions her about her employer, she asks:
“How much do you know about fear?”
Bond replies, “All there is.”
I have lived through some harrowing situations, but I am glad that I don’t know all there is to know about fear. When fear grips you, it presents scenarios to your mind that are worse than reality, robs you of sleep, peace, and joy, and wears you down physically and emotionally. I will use a metaphor – the Soviet-era elevator – to get to the core issue and present a radical remedy, not just a three-step formula.
Many years ago we lived on the seventh floor of an apartment building in Lviv, Ukraine. Most of these ubiquitous Soviet-era buildings have the same elevators. The faux-wooden doors open to reveal a suffocatingly small box with graffiti on the walls. Redolent of cigarette smoke and rotten cabbage, the elevator clanks as it carries you up and down. As I resigned myself to daily trips on this contraption with two small children, the building manager told me that the electricity would go out frequently. The thought of getting stuck sent chills up my spine. Even though it would be temporary, the mere thought summoned the deepest human fears – loss of control, abandonment, isolation, darkness, and the possibility of plummeting to your death.
God knows all there is to know about our tendency to fear and tells us repeatedly in the Bible not to be afraid, but on what basis?
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)
What does is mean that we have not been perfected in love when we fear? God’s love is perfect, and we enter into the sure promise of perfection as soon as we receive Him. However, the remnants of fear can temporarily coexist with love because we grow in our understanding and experience of His love over time.
Perfect love produces boldness.
Absence of fear (boldness) doesn’t come from self-sufficiency, but from the relation of a child to the Father. The child does not earn the Father’s love through perfect obedience, but receives it. God’s full and free acceptance of us elicits a response of complete confidence that excludes fear and uncertainty. The more we comprehend of His love, the more we are able to let go of control. We cannot control variables and outcomes in an uncertain world. We can trust the One who orchestrates the final outcome for our greatest good.
We’re never cut off from the power source. Never left in the dark. Never separated from His love.
Although the Apostle Paul was well acquainted with adversity, His encounter with Jesus, faith in Him, and depth of understanding of God’s love enabled Him to sing praises to God in prison and pen some of the most powerful truths that can set us free. He wrote:
“ For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
A commentator expounded on this: “God has done the harder thing—giving his own Son for us; surely he will do the easier thing—give us all the blessings he has promised. He is the only one who can justify, and he has already justified us; who can bring any charge against us? The judge himself, Christ Jesus, died, was resurrected, and now is interceding for us. Surely no one will condemn us. God loves us so much. Surely nothing can separate us from the love God has for us in Christ.” (Asbury Bible Commentary on Romans 8:38-39/ Assurance)
Towards the end of Skyfall, Bond is held captive by Sévérine’s “boss” who asks Bond if he has a hobby. Bond replies, “Resurrection.” The resurrection of Jesus actually happened. Apart from faith in Jesus, we can’t live in this bold assurance. We need to walk closely with Him to face the challenges ahead. God has called us to advance the Gospel, to go like Paul into dark places as beacons of His love and truth.
Let that sink in today. Let that sink in every day.