9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for[c] our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 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.
Eastern Orthodox theology teaches that, on each Christian soul's way to God, there is a middle way and the way of perfection. Some never reach the way of perfection. Perfection is this, that perfect love drives out all fear and only love remains.
I am far from perfect. My deepest fear is that God is going to turn His back on me and that I will be separated from Him for all eternity. Sometimes, in moments of despair, this fear becomes all consuming.
During such times, I become incapable of loving other people, or God. I become so focused on myself, and on my fear, that only my consciousness of myself and the fear exists. That is a horrible place to be. I think that it is a state very close to hell.
Most days, I am stuck soundly within the middle way-- loving God passionately and fearing His judgement and punishment. This scripture states that we can know and rely upon the love that God has for us. This scripture states that our salvation depends upon what God has done for us. This scripture states that we can have confidence on the day of judgement if we exist within the key to that confidence--- that we must live in love and, in doing so, live in God. In this way, God will also live within us.
There are few things that intrigue me more about scripture than the idea that "perfect love drives out fear.... and.... The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Ironically, these verses fill me with both fear and hope.... Fear that I am still far from perfect and hopeful that the very real possibility exists that I can one day be perfect in love and exist without fear.
I think that the key must be the cultivation of a deeper trust in God and a consistent reliance upon what He has done for us. It is very challenging to abide in God, always, when you do not fully trust Him. Paradoxically, it is also very challenging to learn to trust God completely without abiding in Him consistently.
I once heard it said that true courage is not the absence of fear but taking action in the presence of fear. I think that abiding in God, from a human perspective, must necessarily be like this. We grow deeper in the Lord, and closer to perfection in love, when we do not allow ourselves to be defeated by fear.
As in all things with God, much depends upon our free will and much depends upon the grace and help of God. If we not try though, our fear will consume us and, ultimately, fear has the potential to extinguish love.