Love vs. Fear

I came across a quote recently that amazed me from one of the most famous psychologists of the 20th Century, Elisabeth Kubler Ros: “There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.” 

I tend to be quite cautious about basing any of my teaching on the work of secular psychologists. While on the one hand they can have some excellent insights and observations, their worldview can get in the way of understanding the true nature of the heart from a Christian perspective. But in this case I saw that she may as well have been quoting the Bible: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1John 4:18). Amazing! So love and fear cannot coexist!

There is not yet unanimity on this subject yet from the world of neurology, but there is a strong and empirically supported view that as far as our brain is concerned, we are either operating out of a place of love (sometimes called “joy”) or out of fear. The implications of this perspective are huge, especially as it relates to emotional intelligence, which is our ability (or lack thereof) to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. Although we don’t normally use the term in our courses, we actively build our trainings around just such skills and of learning to live out of the heart that Jesus gave us, as opposed to the false values, lies, and motivations of the world. 

Emotionally, we can see that such feelings as compassion, joy, or peace are expressions of love. Feelings like anger, depression, or shame, on the other hand, are expressions of fear. In some sense, then, our task becomes simpler when we want to understand what we or others are feeling: start with the basic question. Is this fundamentally love, or fear?

Another point deserves attention here. Because we are relational creatures, created by a relational God for relationship, and we are reconciled for relationship because of the love of Christ for us, our emotions are also relational signals. Look at the five dimensions of love as a relational signal:

  1. Love as attachment to God the Father
  2. Love as a sense of being empowered by God our King
  3. Love as a sense of trust and security in Christ our Rock
  4. Love as a sense of being approved by God in Christ
  5. Love as a sense of hope in the purposes of God 

Of course I don’t have to recognize God as the object and source of love. I am welcome to (as examples): 

  • be attached to possessions as an idol
  • feel empowered by my own position in society
  • put my trust in money
  • elevate my own standards above God’s
  • make my own lusts into my purpose

It’s like being satisfied with a sex toy instead of my own wife. We were made for a relationship with a real person, and not to have things control us. 

Fear has the same five dimensions:

  • fear of abandonment
  • fear of powerlessness
  • fear of being unsafe 
  • fear of failure
  • fear of futility

How can we then leverage this simple understanding to help grow in emotional intelligence? First, start with yourself. Don’t go around trying to diagnose others without first looking inside. Here is an idea for your quiet time with the Lord. 

Take one incident from your past day and bring it to the Lord in prayer. What incident? Think back on your day and scan it for feelings that got exposed. Pick one such moment, incident, conversation, or state of being that you carried around with you that was uncomfortable or painful. Pray something like this: “Lord Jesus, my whole life belongs to you, including the yucky parts that I don’t even know what to do with. I invite you to open my heart to what you want me to see about this incident and my feelings.” 

  • Write out the incident in a journal, or speak it out thoroughly in prayer.
  • Once you are done with the incident itself, keep writing or speaking with the Lord, but now you are asking to understand what you really wanted at that moment. 
  • Keep writing or praying, now to understand what your fear was. What does your feeling tell you about your desire? What does your desire tell you about your fear? What does your fear tell you about what or who you expect to cover (remove) your fear?
  • Name the fear.
  • Which one of the five dimensions of fear above fits best? If there is more than one category, then which one feeds the others? In other words, which one is the root?
  • Confess to the Lord this fear. Remain quiet before him and ask for his reassurance about whatever truth he wants you to know in this place. 
  • Whatever comes to mind, take it seriously. If nothing comes to mind, read a Psalm or a parable of Jesus, or whatever else you are already reading in the Bible, but do so with this one question in mind: “What do you want to say to this fear?”
  • The answer will lead you back to one of the five areas of love listed above. Pray this truth back in thanksgiving to the Lord and ask him to make it more real to you than your fear has been.

Going through this process may give you a dramatic breakthrough, but more likely it will be a quiet realization of something you already knew in your head to be true, but where you didn’t emotionally connect to this place of real life fear. The key value in this kind of process is the growth in awareness of your own emotions, and of how they speak to the quality of your relationship with God. Bear in mind, however, that this process is not about fixing yourself; it’s about looking to your Father, who has provided all you need for life and godliness (2Peter 1:3) in Christ.

We go into much more detail about this kind of process in our flagship course “The King’s Community” where we learn how to listen to each other and help one another listen to the Lord’s leading and his voice. It’s not a place where we learn how to give each other advice and fix each other. It’s a place where we learn how to share one another’s burdens and take them to the Lord together. 

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