No Fear in Love, Part 2

June 28, 2021 | perspective | Kevin McGill

There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out all fear …. — 1 John 4:18

Our first year of life together was a roller coaster. I went from nearly leaving the church to convincing my wife that we should be missionaries.

After being married for just eight months, Danelle and I found ourselves living in a thatched roof hut the middle of a jungle, far away in a remote mountain village in the Philippines.

I was motivated to live a missionary life. I had heard sermons by a missionary pilot who said Jesus was going to return within five years. While I didn't recognize it at the time, this was clearly a form of date setting.

Last Generation theology teaches that Jesus will not return until there is a generation of people who perfectly reproduce His character here on Earth. I was determined to be one of those people. I began daily listening to hours of sermons that reinforced this theology. I was on a quest for perfection, and I planned to do my part to save the world. 

Each morning, Danelle and I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to join other missionaries at a prayer rock. But over time, Danelle became too emotionally and physically exhausted to get up and pray.

She was one of two nurses performing the duties of dentist, doctor, pharmacist and receptionist. One time, they saw 70 people in a single day.

Understandably, Danelle's exhaustion didn't always allow her to make it to the prayer rock. But I judged her for this. I thought she was spiritually weak. After all, we were called to be the final generation. Tiredness wasn't an excuse. 

While I was judging my wife, she was comparing herself to me spiritually. She felt she wasn't measuring up.

In my quest to perfectly reproduce God’s character, I had convinced her of the need to take off our wedding rings, change our diet, become missionaries, and commit ourselves to surrendering every sin.

Surrender is good when we are motivated by a desire to be obedient to a loving God. But it can become psychological torture if it is not actually “God” we are surrendering to. Not everything some label a “sin” is actual SIN.

Last Generation theology misses the mark if it cannot help people distinguish between human preferences and God’s commands. Confusing tradition and manmade religion with God’s commands can be very damaging. It sets up outward behavior as a sign of godliness. It can lead to spiritual pride and an inability to receive what others have to offer spiritually.

As I was judging Danelle, believing her to be spiritually weak, she started to become depressed. In my state of spiritual superiority, I judged her for being depressed. Although I didn’t say it out loud, I believed her depression was a sin. But she was emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted and didn’t have the capacity to help one more patient.

Danelle describes this time in her own words:

Exhaustion settled in, and I found it harder and harder to get up early to make it to the prayer rock. If I missed, I would feel such guilt! So, I would get up and go, but I was just so tired. I began to go less and less and feel more and more guilty. After all, Jesus frequently stayed up all night praying and getting spiritually fed and armed for the day, right?

A deep depression began to come over me. I felt lost. I knew I wasn’t able to get up and pray. I thought that was my fault. I didn’t protect myself by spending time with Jesus. And now I was lost. Maybe if I would have been getting up early to pray, I wouldn’t be depressed like this. But now I was depressed, and lost and I couldn’t pull myself out.

At the brink of my depression, I couldn’t get out of bed. I had never experienced that before. Kevin called the career missionary, and she came to talk to me. I had such shame. As she was talking to me, she asked, “Danelle, do you feel like you are sinning?” She nailed it.

I believed that my depression was a sin. There must have been something spiritually wrong with me. I wasn’t getting “fed" enough or “armed” enough. The tools of devotions and praise time became a weapon against me. Nothing was heavier than the spiritual and psychological pressure of believing I was not fully submitting to God. But what happens when rest itself is a Holy thing?

The career missionary was able to speak truth to me and assure me that my depression was not a sin. She gave me permission to rest.

In this temporary rest, we were beginning to see the light. We were learning we had been believing an incorrect gospel. A backwards gospel that smothers and is not life-giving. One that is uncomfortably close to the real thing. One that states truth at first, 'through Jesus we are made perfect,' but then goes on to emphasize the steps to perfection including unhealthy and unrealistic behavior motivated by fear. The focus shifts away from loving Christ and others. Instead, the focus becomes self-centered.

In part three of this series, Danelle and I will talk about our personal encounter with the God of LOVE and how He moved us from a place of fear and legalism to a place of true rest and freedom.