For years I was afraid to talk about some of my struggles- some of the things that had happened to me as well as some of the things I had done. I was certain that I would be written off, rejected, abandoned.
It’s a longer story than I’ll write here, but as a result of my experience I decided I would provide safe space where no one in my closest sphere of influence would feel (as much as was possible on my end) afraid to approach me with the skeletons they had in their closet like I had been afraid to approach others before. I wanted to embody grace.
Contemplating how to do that led me to 1 John 4:18, a verse I pondered over and over for almost a solid year. It’s a passage I’m trying to implement in my interpersonal relationships, in my writing, and from any stage or platform from which I speak. Further, it has everything to do with the “cure” for that guilt-shame duo we discussed in the previous chapter.
Here are two translations of the verse-
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love (ESV).
Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection (Passion).
I want to highlight three concepts from the verse:
Then we’ll wrap it with a bow and resolve the Moral Injury issue I introduced in the previous episode- "on paper," at least.
First, let’s define what “perfect" means. The word used in this passage doesn’t infer we’ll always love each other “without flaw.” Rather it suggests we will love each other maturely, to the full capacity that we can love.
The Greek word “perfect” is telios. It doesn't mean “without error” (as we most often use the word perfect). Rather, it means “reaching full potential.”
We find the word in Colossians 1:28, where Paul says,
Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect [telios] in Christ Jesus.
John, who also wrote in Greek like Paul, places the same word here in 1 John 4:18. So, he writes about a love that “reaches the full potential.” Or, “fulfills the purpose for which it was created.”
In the same way Paul longed for his congregants to live their purpose and reveal their potential on a personal level, John wants us to “love our purpose.” That is, he wants our love to be whole, complete, and full of life. Since the Spirit indwells us in His fullness, that is our capacity- to deliver the very heart of the Father to the world in which we live.
What does that kind of love look like?
Well, read the verse again. John describes it. A telios love pushes fear out and makes massive space for grace.
A la 1 Corinthians 13, telios love hopes for the best, believes the best, and never fails- even when the person being loved clearly falters (13:4f.). In fact, this love keeps no record of wrongs at all. It actually endures and abounds all the more aggressively when sin is present (see Romans 6:1). Telios love is the antidote for hard things.
Second, let's discuss what "casts out fear" means. John tells us that mature love- the love that reaches its full potential- dominates fear. It doesn’t incite fear or insecurity; it eliminates it. As such, telios love makes people feel safe.
I reviewed several translations to see how they translate the term “casts out.” Here are four ways translators describe what perfect, telios, love does.
In other words, this kind of love is strong- one of the most powerful forces in the universe. It’s more potent than PTSD. It’s more massive that Moral Injury. It shudders shame.
Here’s how intensely it creates security: the same word used of “casts out” fear is the same verbiage used throughout the New Testament to describe how Jesus treated demons. When He bumped into them, they had no choice but to leave. He expelled them. He forced them to go. He eliminated them.
It’s a great analogy. Mature love- the God kind of love- does the exact same thing to condemnation, fear, and shame. Perfect love drives fear away with this same passion. Fear has no choice but leave when people are loved in this way.
Now pause. Step back. Do a heart check. Let’s be honest.
This is the exact opposite of what many people experience when they come in contact with our moral systems of right and wrong, our religious routines, and our beliefs systems about “making the world a better place.” Rather than driving fear away from the relationship and communicating, “Hey, come in close… tell me what’s really happening…” we often invite fear and place it on the person like a cloak of shame. They already feel devastated, yet we often want to make them feel more morally broken as we think that will safeguard them from breaking that universal subset of Fact #3 rules again.
Seems odd once you put it in print and take a logical look at it, doesn’t it?!
I’ve done it in parenting, I’ve done it in preaching, I’ve done it in relationships. We often like it when others have a “healthy” measure of fear, because it allows us to control the interaction and maintain the upper hand. We’re afraid that if they don't experience some degree of fear, they might not see how desperately they need grace. They might not change. They might not “get their stuff together.” We might not be able to control them.
But think practically about the environment surrounding Jesus…
Notably, most of these people carried some obvious skeleton that stood in direct opposition to a specific Scriptural command. Most of them had been shunned because of it. Yet, despite that, they all felt safe with Jesus.
Are these the people who feel welcome near us? Or would they be afraid to approach us, because we haven't been perfected in love?
Third, finally, let’s discuss why people are afraid, that is, why they keep the wounds of the past bottled up. John, who spent three years with Jesus and was present at each of the encounters mentioned above, provides us with a clue. After telling us “telios love expels fear” he clearly explains why people fear.
He writes, “Fear involves punishment” (1 John 4:18).
In each of the instances above, people who approached Jesus knew they’d find themselves pulled closer rather than pushed away and punished, regardless of how big and horrific the issue was, right?
They didn’t need to self-protect. They didn’t need to preserve their dignity. They didn’t need to hide behind a veil. He elevated them higher than they’d ever been, even as many of them brought their biggest shame and disappointment to Him.
In another verse in the same chapter, John writes (1 John 4:12 NLT),
No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us and His love is brought to full expression in us.
Notice what John says. Even though none of us have physically seen our Redeemer, we tangibly experience the complete manifestation of who He is when we encounter unconditional love from another human. That is when we feel safe to be completely exposed and vulnerable.
Only that kind of love works. In fact, that is the kind of love that shreds fear and shame, truly breathing life into people.
Imperfect, immature love does the exact opposite. It instills fear, it creates hiding, it empowers shame. It focuses on the rules rather than the relationship; it values written letters over love in action.
I can’t imagine the atrocities of war. I’ve never been.
An elderly gentleman who served as the librarian at a church I attended during seminary was flabbergasted when Saving Private Ryan hit the big screen back in 1998. Whereas critics and “commoners” like me praised its graphic depiction of the battlefront, he had a different take all together.
“It’s not real,” he said. “Everything I saw in Normandy was 7 or 8 times worse. The air was dirty. There were people falling next to you in gory ways the films can never depict. The colors were different. The sound was deafening, and the smell was something I’d never experienced…”
I stood there, his words engulfing me.
He continued. “I hope people never see what it’s really like. It’s horrific. War is hell on earth.”
My naive, 24-year-old self wondered what could possibly be more graphic than Saving Private Ryan. I couldn’t envision it, no matter how hard I tried. I just listened.
After a few moments, he added- “I don’t know that people around here would look at me the same way if they know what that was really like, the things I experienced, and the things I had to do.”
There it was. Bullseye.
Not just emotional wounds, but spiritual wounds. Moral damage. Moral Injury.
Something had stung his soul in the deepest way. He wasn’t “fighting” or “flighting,” as is the case with PTSD. He carried guilt and shame. And this brave soldier who stared Hitler eye-to-eye was afraid of church people.
“Would we look at you the same?” I asked.
“Yes. All of that destruction you see on the film, and everything that happened during the War… that was done by people. By soldiers. By young men like me.”
Sadly, I never thought about that conversation again after that until I began writing this chapter. In my mind, we had accepted him. He was the church librarian. He was “one of us.”
But in his mind, he wasn’t. He always carried around the baggage of things he held back- a skeleton in the closet that seemed infinitely scarier the longer it remained propped behind closed doors.
He was afraid that if he revealed that skeleton, we would shun him. Growing up in a religious environment, he’d probably seen enough evidence to verify that, yes, shunning happens. Sure, we cloak it in “acceptable” language, but we still do it. We shame people into silence about their biggest secrets, their deepest hurts.
As I began writing Warrior Hope, working my way back through the Invisible Scars and Honoring the Code documentaries, and sitting across the table from numerous veterans of all ages, I heard the same refrain from many of them.
“I’m not so sure what my family would think of me if they knew the things I did over there.”
And- “If people understood how many things I had to do that I never thought I would ever do…”
Or, “I feel like there’s a me from over there that I would like to leave there, and I feel like there’s a me now. There’s a tension between those two…”
In other words, they’re afraid they won’t be accepted.
All that said, let’s talk about what this has to do with Moral Injury (MI).
MI occurs when the experiences or choices a person makes (or is exposed to, even through no fault of their own), conflicts with their personal code of conduct, morals, or ethics— the things we hold as right and wrong. As you can imagine, anyone struggling with this will feel great guilt and/or shame. I just relayed what I’ve heard from soldiers, but the mantra is the same from people who experience MI for any reason.
Let me tell you what the data reveals- and, I promise, you’ll understand why the 80% of this chapter seemed more like a Bible study than a chapter in a book about freedom. It seems like a simple answer, but the data is consistent. Practitioners of healing who study MI— from both secular sources and sacred sources— agree that overcoming MI requires one thing…
You can’t bottle it. You can’t package it. You can’t mass-deliver it.
The all-too-uncommon cure for Moral Injury is receiving forgiveness from someone the wounded person believes has the moral authority to grant that forgiveness.
They need to hear the words “You’re forgiven. You’re accepted. It’s the past.”
Some even need to hear “I’m proud of the person you are.”
And others even need the words “I love you.”
Who has such authority to gift these words?
It depends on the person who needs it. It might be:
It must be someone they believe, sense, or feel has the authority to impart forgiveness. It is at this point the healing process often begins.
I know. You might have been looking for a more revelatory answer- for seven steps, a weekend retreat, a pilgrimage, or something akin to doing something significant rather than receiving something significant.
If you come from a faith tradition like me, you might have just winced a bit when I suggested that coaches and soldiers and teachers and anyone else can dispense forgiveness. I know, that sounds strange.
But then there’s this…
During Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees regularly scolded Him for forgiving people. In their mind, only God could do that.
In response, at the end of His time on earth, Jesus did something incredibly interesting. We find it in John 20.
After they discovered the empty tomb, the disciples hid in the Upper Room- afraid they might be killed, too. Jesus appeared to them behind the locked doors, showing that our emotional duress (i.e., even fear itself) doesn’t hinder Him from finding us.
John tells us He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them.
Then, He declared, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23 ESV).
Clearly, He expanded the power of imparting forgiveness farther and wider than the religious elite of the day dreamed possible. Not only could God in Heaven forgive sins, but His Son certainly could (Mark 2:10-11). And not only could that Son forgive sins, but all the King’s sons and daughters could.
Perhaps this is why Jesus said that “all men will know you are My disciples… by the way you love one another” (see John 13:34-35).
Love communicates something nothing else can. Love is the greatest revelation possible to an unbelieving or desperately-wanting-to-believe world. Love creates sacred space where much-needed healing happens.
(And, remember, sacred and secular professionals alike agree that freedom is found in forgiveness.)
If you’re suffering with guilt or shame, let me remind you that you can always find a story to back your perception that you’ll be rejected. I revealed the most to the person I loved the best and was shunned the hardest. And, like the vet in the church library, I’ve learned that some of the biggest offenders of loving people imperfectly are the most oblivious to it, even using pop psychology, Bible verses, and well-worn phrases that sound more cliché than real.
But that’s not the norm. Most people want to dispense grace because, at the core, they know that they’ve needed it before and will need it again.
Freedom is always found on the other side of transparency. Perhaps you need to let go of things you’ve done. Or you need to release the weight of things you’ve experienced- things that were done to you or things that you witnessed firsthand. Whatever the case, freedom is found in the light.
Label it. Light it up. Let it go…
Yet, remember that not everyone needs access to your story. You may decide to talk to more people in the future, but freedom in the area you’re hiding begins the instant you talk to “the few” we talked about in the intro.
Turn the page. In the next chapter we’ll discuss what to do next, to continue moving forward. Freedom isn’t just about dealing with the past, it’s about letting go of who you were so that you can live as the person you’re designed to be. That is, freedom has a future orientation as well.
Links for this talk
Go to the previous talk for the context of this one- it's located at www.Jenkins.tv/blog/mi
Also, "Perfect Love Casts Out Fear," talk #58 at https://www.jenkins.tv/blog/58 for a look back at this subject
Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)- https://amzn.to/2xwQcEY
Stream the film, Honoring the Code (Moral Injury), at https://www.warriorhope.com/HTC
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