Most of us, if asked what is the opposite of love would say hatred. Yet there is a simple Bible statement that seems to suggest that the opposite pole actually is fear.
‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18).
Could it be that our every thought and action is motivated at its deepest level by one or other of these two raw urges of the soul – a binary option of fear or love? Is the choice always, either: to covet or to give, to hoard or to share, to unite or to divide?
The first instance of fear occurred when God came visiting Adam and Eve in Paradise. He asked, ‘Adam, where are you?’ not because he couldn’t find them, but to make them think about their haunted situation and how they got there. ‘Adam, where has your wilful experimenting landed you?’ And Adam replied:
‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked and I hid myself’ (Genesis 3:10).
Fear uses our energy to close us down, to make us run away and hide. Love inspires us to open out and share. Fear moves us to wear fig leaves; love allows us to stand naked. And as someone once wrote: ‘Fear holds people close; love holds people dear.’ The last hint at fear in the Bible contrasts the conqueror with the cowardly (Revelation 21:7-8).
I understand that the command Fear not occurs 366 times in the Bible – one reminder for each day of a full leap year! Indeed, the New Testament Gospel story is launched with an angel bidding Mary Fear not, and repeating it nine months later to those shepherds:
‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy.’ ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people of goodwill’ (Luke 2:10, 14 margin).
Now, joy, peace and goodness are individual ‘grapes’ forming the bunch known as ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ – love being a name fit for the whole bunch comprising those many components. And fear surely expresses itself in the opposite, ‘the works of the flesh’ which include such horrors as impurity, enmity, rivalry and jealousy (Galatians 5:19-23).
Perfect love is perfect God-fearing
And just when we think we’ve sorted that question of basic opposites, if we read Deuteronomy 6:1-25 where we are exhorted in the Shema (the Jewish creed, that Jesus reckoned was ‘the greatest commandment’), to ‘love the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 6:5), we also find that three times we are commanded to ‘fear the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 6: 2, 13 and 24), because – to make matters worse – he ‘is a jealous God’ (Deuteronomy 6:15). [‘Doh!’]
When you truly love the Lord, you fear to grieve him in any way. If Adam had truly loved the Lord he would have understood that and, exerting that respectful fear beforehand, he’d have been spared the tormenting fear afterwards!