18 March 2014

An Essay I Wrote

This is an essay I wrote for literature class, when we were discussing the books we read from the Bible. Enjoy!
(I got an A, that's why I'm posting it.)

To Love Without Fear

     In 1 John 4:18, John states, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” What he means by this is that we cannot love perfectly if we have any fear. He does not mean to say that “fear of the Lord” is wrong or imperfect, though, because the meanings assigned to the word “fear” in these two contexts are different.
     When John writes, “there is no fear in love,” he is referring to the kind of fear that leads us to sin, for instance, a student lying about a grade he got on a test so his parents would not get angry at him. This kind of fear, which is natural and instinctive to mankind, hinders us from loving perfectly because it springs from selfishness. Perfect love has no self-centered thoughts whatsoever, and therefore cannot have selfish fear. It is easy to misinterpret selfish fear as the more virtuous kind of fear referred to in “fear of the Lord,” because it is frequently the fear of what someone else will do to one, and fearing someone else's actions can seem to make one more focused on others. In reality, the fear of what someone else will do to us is selfish, because we are thinking of our own discomfort as something to be feared.
     The fear referred to in the phrase “fear of the Lord” is a more virtuous fear. This kind of fear is not the state of being literally afraid of God, but of recognizing His omnipotence and being afraid of offending Him through sin. This fear branches into two types, which can be called perfect contrition and imperfect contrition. Imperfect contrition is fearing or disliking to offend God because of His just punishments. Imperfect contrition is similar to selfish fear, but with God in mind, and is therefore better. Perfect contrition is fearing or disliking to offend God because of pure love for Him and hate of anything displeasing to Him.
The very fear referred to in John's letter is a combination of the first and second, in that it is fear of punishment, from God or neighbor, for selfish reasons. Saint Therese of Lisieux illustrates the “love without fear” concept in a more concrete way than John does:
      "Consider a small child who has vexed his mother by a display of bad temper or disobedience. If the child hides in a corner through fear of punishment, he feels that his mother will not forgive him. But if instead, he extends his little arms towards her and with a smile cries out: ‘Love, kiss me, mamma, I will not do it again,’ will not his mother press the little one to her heart with tenderness, and forget what the child has done?” Perfect contrition is, in a way, John's “love without fear.” A repentant soul cries out to God for forgiveness, thinking not of the possible punishment for wrongdoing but of the offense it has given God, the very essence of Love.
     To emphasize the goodness of perfect contrition,Virginia A. Kenny, in her novel Convent Boarding School, describes a sin as “Love shuddering,” (141) with Love understood as being God. A perfectly contrite soul wishes to keep Love from “shuddering” because of the mere action of shuddering, and not out of any fear of what the shudder might turn into. This is love without fear.
In light of all this, one way to rephrase John's words “perfect love casts out fear” would be: “Perfect love (or contrition) is estranged from selfish fear,” or, “Fear cannot remain where perfect love exists.” Keeping in mind God's infinite mercy, a soul has no grounds to fear if it is truly repentant.

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