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What is the opposite of love?

Live from St. Mark’s Church, Bermuda.

I recently saw, hanging on a wall, a painting called ‘The Coming of the Lord’. The painting depicted Jesus, hovering over a cityscape. The souls of people floated upwards as their cars crashed, bursting into flames, and unpiloted aeroplanes collided with skyscrapers. The implication was that those ‘left behind’ would die a horrible death. It was abhorrent, disgusting, and thoroughly ‘unChristian’, yet, sadly, the idea of the ‘rapture’ (a word that does not exist in the Bible) is held by some Christians, including, presumably, the owner of the painting.

Between 1995 and 2007, the ‘Left Behind’ series of books about the second coming of Christ, written by fundamentalists Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, sold millions of copies, even being made into a 2014 film starring Nicholas Cage. Sadly, the fictional series was, and is, only about making money and nothing to do with reality, yet people bought them, read them, and believed every word. When I was serving in a church back in 2004, a couple had written letters explaining why they had disappeared when ‘the rapture’ happened and their non-believing family members had been left behind. Yes, astonishingly, people really do this. And worse, I have attended funerals where pastors have told the congregation that  they are going to suffer the same fate if they do not turn to Christ and make Jesus their own personal saviour.

Before I continue, let me be clear, God is love, God loves the world, and God loves you. If I could underline, circle, and highlight that last sentence and emblazon it across the sky, I would, for the opposite of love is fear. We do not have a God of fear and as Christians we should not live by fear. Jesus did not come into the world to scare us into believing and trusting in him, and paintings and pastors should not scare us into turning to Christ. Faith is not an insurance policy against being left behind or anywhere else! The point of believing and trusting in Jesus Christ is not, as some pastors assert, to avoid going to hell (another word that is not in the original Greek or Hebrew scriptures).

This week, I was approached online by a young Christian in their early twenties, who is a member of a conservative congregation in the USA. She shared that in the eyes of her church she had ‘sinned’, and she was afraid of the consequences because it would result in excommunication and being shunned by everyone close to her. The red flag in her testimony was the word ‘afraid’. There it was, rearing its ugly head. Fear. The church made her feel afraid. The church, the bride of Christ — called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and be witnesses to God’s love —  was making a young person experience the very opposite of love, and my response, apart from listening to her and accepting her? To find a church where she could be herself and live without fear.

This same week, before a funeral that I was conducting, I was approached by a woman who asked me whether God was going to send unbelievers to hell. Without getting into a theological discussion about the nature of hell (I feel another article coming on), I asked her if she had children. She answered, “Yes.” I asked her if she loved her children and again, she answered, “Yes.” So, I asked her whether — even if they rejected her or committed a heinous crime — she would send her children to a place of eternal torment and punishment. The woman looked horrified, “No. Never!” and so I gently asked, “Is God more or less loving than you?”

God was, is, and is to come. Jesus came, comes, and is coming. We can meet Jesus in the here and now. However, what happens when we die? What will happen to us? Will our souls float away? Let me share this powerful prayer, prayed at every graveside at every Anglican funeral.

We have entrusted our brother/sister to God’s mercy,
and we now commit his/her body to the ground:
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies
that they may be conformed to his glorious body,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To him be glory for ever. Amen.

Friends, we will be resurrected to life and life means creation. The ‘glorious body’ to which we will be conformed is a physical body, because Jesus was resurrected with a physical body. A colleague of mine put it wonderfully when she spoke of her mother who had recently died. She said, “I am already with her. I’ve just not caught up with her yet.” For those who have died, the resurrection has already happened. For the rest of us, well, we have a job to do don’t we — to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and to be witnesses to God’s love. I will close with this passage from John’s first letter.

“God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. Through Jesus, God’s love was perfected among us so that we may have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not yet fully comprehended God’s love.” (1 John 16b-18)

This week, may you know that you are loved by God more than you can possibly imagine. May you not live in fear but in the knowledge of God’s perfect love — a love that will bring you home.

Amen.