I passed a little church not far from my apartment the other day. I didn’t register the name of the church or the denomination. I don’t think I know anyone who attends and I don’t know anything about what their services are like.
All I know about them is what their sign out front said. You know the church signs, the ones with the letters that someone has the divine privilege of rearranging every few weeks to spell out some new pun, holiday greeting, or condemnation.
Their sign said, “To love God is to love him without doubt and fear.”
I doubled back to view it again, to be sure I’d read it correctly.
And there it was again, all caps. “To love God is to love him without doubt and fear”.
I’ve come to discover, after a lifetime of being punched in the gut, that there are two ways for someone to punch you. Some people get in a good shot in the middle of a fair fight, when I’m tensed and ready and they find a point of weakness that I need to shore up. It’s good for me to know where those weaknesses are, and a good gut punch can strengthen you for the next fight.
But some gut punches are sucker punches. It doesn’t show weakness to have the wind knocked out of you by a fist flying from out of nowhere.
That sign, for me, was a spiritual sucker punch.
Because here is what I know to be true:
I love God. And I fear and doubt.
I understand where they’re coming from. I imagine the sign is meant to be an interpretation of 1 John 4:18, that there is no fear in love. And it’s true, perfect love drives out fear. Perhaps that’s what we’re meant to be aiming for.
But here, in the middle of this broken mess that we call the world, I find fear and doubt all mixed into the way I love others and the way I love God.
Does that mean it’s okay to let fear and doubt rule in my love and relationships? Of course not. I don’t embrace them, I actively fight to love without selfishness and doubt and fear. Every day I have to make conscious decisions against fear and towards trust.
And I’m not there yet.
So to say that to love God is to love him without fear and doubt feels like a half truth.
Let’s commit to not drive-by shaming each other, church. Let’s post full truths, like that someday we will love God without doubt and fear (and each other! and ourselves! What glory.).
Or that in this church, doubters and fearers are welcome. We’re learning to be lovers.
I’m not here to stir up dissent or to rally against a small church I drove by once. I don’t want to read this and think, “Wow, have they ever got it backwards.”
Because more often than I care to admit or know, I am that little church with the sign out front that sucker punches my friends, coworkers, family, and strangers as they drive slowly by.
I act like I’ve got my act more together than I do spiritually. I take for granted the grace I’ve been given. I am ignorant and blind to the struggles and sins of those around me.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want less ultimatums and more generosity. I want a church who welcomes the broken world with open arms, because really, we knew the world was broken almost from the get-go. I want to be a member of that kind of church.
It’s the kind of church the world needs. It’s the kind of church we need to be.
Loving the world means loving it without fear and doubt.
Or, at least, learning to.