It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it isn’t because I’ve forgotten.
Actually, I’ve just been a little hesitant on writing about what I’ve wanted to write. I’ve been mulling it over in my mind all week and even this morning I woke up, rolled over, watched the rain against my window, and thought some more about it. Before I turn into a nutcase with all this thinking, I’ve decided ‘what the heck. Just write it.’ It’s as good a day as any, right? So here goes.
It was raining–just like it is right now–when I started fearing God. *Big surprise since I’m in rainy Washington, I know*. But I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the way the rain pelted on the high-vaulted ceilings in my church, the one I attended for a while before attending my current one. I was only 17 but I remember that everyone wore jackets that had already soaked through and wet boots and every now and then the congregation would be startled at the clap of thunder that spiked through the chapel. And I remember that it reflected–pretty perfectly–how I was feeling that night.
My pastor had shown us a short clip about a minister who was preaching to his congregation. Everyone was listening to him, nodding, shouting Amens!, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a roar broke out. It was louder than thunder, and as soon as it erupted, half the chapel had disappeared. Those who were left behind dropped to their knees and cried. An ominous rumble preceded as the screen went black and in a script much like credits at the end of a horror movie, the words “Are you ready?” faded onto the screen.
My heart stopped.
“Fear God,” my pastor had said while pointing a finger around the room. “Because he can surely damn you to hell at any second.”
My soul shrank.
Members from my congregation dropped to their knees at his words and I remained standing, looking around me as fear crippled the legs of my friends. Not fear that exudes reverence or love or awe, but fear that paralyzes.
That was the day I turned away.
I’m not here to say my former pastor was a bad person because he wasn’t. I’m not here to point fingers at other denominations or say they’re completely wrong. They’re good people.
But it took me weeks–even months–of wrestling with so much doubt as to who God was and why he was so terrible before I learned the truth. So many questions had bothered me.
What if someone took their own life because of a mental illness? Would God just damn them to a fiery grave?
What if someone went their whole life without hearing Jesus’ name spoken? Would God just cast them out since they were never a believer?
What if someone grew up in a culture where a different God was preached and worshiped, and their devotion and love and time was given to the only thing they ever knew? Would they seriously be in jeopardy?
And what about my cousin? He was shot by a man who claimed he was his friend, and my cousin hadn’t even turned his life over to Christ just yet. Was my pastor right about his fate?
What about me? Imperfect, struggling, doubtful me?
God suddenly turned into nothing other than a spiteful stranger that I cowered away from. I had fear.
But the rain today hasn’t just reminded me of the day I feared him and struggled with his existence. I’m reminded also of the first scripture I read while wrestling with those questions and then learning about the gospel from a pair of young missionaries who were hundreds of miles away from home at the time. I was struggling. And without even telling them that, my finger landed on a verse that lay in my lap.
“Perfect love expels all fear”.
Perfect love, they told me quietly, could be directly translated to “the Savior” or even “Heavenly Father”.
Heavenly Father and the Savior expels all fear.
My heart started to beat again.
I know there are thousands–maybe millions– of people who are still wrestling with fear, just like I had. There are thousands of churches who cry for mercy at the threat of eternal flames. There are people who decide to never come back to church because they’ve sinned so gravely that there’s no turning back. There are parents of children who committed suicide in dark closets, who cry themselves to sleep at night, wondering why Heaven is so cruel. There are teenagers who are tired of the threat of “Repent or die” that is waved like a banner of fear, shouting to them to change their ways or be lost forever. There are millions of people who don’t know a Father in Heaven’s love.
I was one of them. I had forgotten–or rather, I had never learned–that Heavenly Father is simply that. My Father. The fear the scriptures refer to is a traditional way of saying reverence, respect, awe, and obedience to his commandments. But when we focus on having perfect love for Him the way He has for us, his children, we’ll already have that respect and awe and obedience. Love proceeds everything.
And how quickly we’ve forgotten that.
Sometimes I still forget it. We all do, especially when the rain hits. After my Dad died I remember asking my husband through a shield of tears, “What if Heaven isn’t really there for us? What if we do just go in the ground?”
My husband thought a while before responding, “Would a loving Father just put his daughter in the ground?”
No, he wouldn’t.
Hebrews 12:28 states, “Fear God with reverence and godly fear.”
It doesn’t say the fear of man, the fear of death, the fear of damnation or the fear that we’re indoctrinated with while living on this unpredictable and often terrifying world. It says godly fear. One of reverence and love and a heart that beats for Him. One that has fall to our knees and repent, not because we’re fearful of what might happen to us, but because we love Him.
A fear that casts out the kind of fear that has us awake at night, worried and suffering. A fear that reminds us that He’s all powerful, and He’s also all forgiving. His mind is much greater than ours, and so is His understanding of circumstances, situations, sins, turmoils, and pains.
He’s got it all under control if we have faith and follow Him. And it’s not the kind of control that has us wince and stay inside for fear of the rain. It’s the kind of control my own earthly dad took when he took my hand and coaxed me across a busy intersection to keep me safe.
Simply put–it’s love.
So now, years later, as I stare out at the rain that still hasn’t stopped pouring since last night, I’m reminded of a Father’s perfect love and the day I came to know it.
A love that expels fear.
A love that makes me look forward to Heaven.
A love that will soon, after this storm, send a rainbow.