Perfect Love, Fear, and the U.S. Elections
Thanks primarily to Donald Trump’s rhetoric, some Christians have been quoting the Apostle John lately: “perfect love casts out fear.” I’m no Trump supporter, but I think these words have been misinterpreted. What they actually mean can help us during this election season!
To be clear, I think love often takes risks. It often includes opening up to and helping strangers, enemies, foreigners, and outsiders. Love sometimes calls us to be vulnerable to those who could harm us. Love is sometimes self-sacrificial for the common good. Those who love well are not paralyzed by fear.
But I don’t think those who love well never fear. Lovers are sometimes rightfully frightened. Fear and love are not necessarily antithetical.
Take the current U.S. presidential election. I know many loving people who are frightened at what might happen should Donald Trump be elected president. I know others who are afraid of what the US would become should Hilary Clinton be elected.
Worrying about what could be painful outcomes can be compatible with loving perfectly.
1 John 4:16-18
Let’s look at the segment of John’s letter in which we find the key phrase. Here are verses 16-18 (NIV):
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The first thing to notice is that the meaning of this passage is far from clear! Sometimes John seems to be speaking of God’s love. Other times of our love. It’s not clear whose love is perfect. Given the ambiguity, I understand why people often interpret this passage to say that those who love perfectly have no fear.
Let me offer an alternative interpretation to the common one I’ve been hearing lately. Notice that John links having no fear with confidence on the day of judgment. He also links fear with punishment. These clues and the fact that the segment begins with the classic phrase “God is love” leads me to think the verse is saying this:
God loves us perfectly, so we have no reason to fear God.
I don’t believe the passage is saying those who love well should never be afraid of what creatures might do. I think John is saying that because God loves us perfectly, we have no reason to fear that God will harm us.
Love seeks well-being, and the One who loves us perfectly always promotes well-being.
I think Christians and everyone else in the US have legitimate fears as they contemplate the the country’s future. It’s appropriate to be afraid that a poor leader will lead the country and the world toward unnecessary suffering and pain. We all must wisely choose leaders – whether in the presidential election or other elections – whom we believe will lead in the most loving way possible.
No matter what the outcomes of the elections, we don’t need to think God is the source of genuine evil should it occur. We can blame creatures for evil rather than our Creator.
And as I have argued elsewhere, if God’s love is inherently uncontrolling, we can avoid saying God “allows” any evils we may encounter. We don’t have to say “God is punishing us” when government officials do what is unloving. We can believe God will continue to love us no matter how well or poorly we vote!
No matter who is elected, we need not feel compelled to believe the election outcome was God’s will.
Let me conclude by introducing a group that intends to put love first when contemplating candidates this election season. “We Stand With Love” group has no specific political agenda nor does it support any particular candidate. But this group asks us to keep love first in our minds not only when we vote but also in how we conduct ourselves during this election season.
To find out more about We Stand With Love, go to westandwithlove.org