In-Sight: From Fear to Love

This is the final “In-Sight” post for this year.  It resumes on Monday, January 7th.  Since I have written about love in the last two “In Sight” posts, I thought I would conclude the year with another one.


For much of his life, Henri Nouwen used the classical Christian image of journey to speak and write about the spiritual life.  One of his emphases about the journey was moving from the house of fear to the house of love. [1]. In one of his early books, he wrote about how fear undermines our fruitfulness in the spiritual life. Nouwen wrote about fear not solely from his academic knowledge of it, but also from his personal experience of it–an experience that recurred (sometimes with intensity) over the course of his life.

I have been re-reading what he wrote about fear because I agree with him that we are living in a fearful land, and that the bulk of nativism, elitism, racism, and discrimination is fueled by fear.  Fear has infiltrated the society and the church.  If we are to be the humans we are created to be and the Christians we are called to be, we must confess our fear and pray for grace to overcome it.

Of course, there are legitimate fears, but that is not what Nouwen was (or I am,) writing about.  Rather, it is the illegitimate fear generated by the egoic (individual) and ethnocentric (collective) attempts to to remain in control and justify the things we say and do in order to do so.

In this regard, we are very much a nation living in fear.  It is the fear which arises in the human spirit when we take our ideas and preferences and declare them to be normative for everyone else–the God-blessed way of life that charts the course, leaving the rest of us either to agree and be “in” or disagree and be “out.”

Fear eliminates room for discourse, replacing it with decrees and demands.  Complex matters are made to appear simple, with the either/or thinking that leads the fearful to allege, “we alone have the right take on things.”  Fearful people claim patriotic and religious terms for themselves, further alleging ” we are the only ones who represent these things correctly.”

To be fair, this is all fearful people can do.  To open the door to a wider look at things immediately diminishes their alleged certainty, and more significantly creates the possibility that they may have to change, which would almost certainly include an erosion or loss of their individual esteem and collective power.

Seeing this as he did, Nouwen wrote repeatedly that the only hope for fearful people is their movement from the house of fear into the house of love.  And with respect to national and ecclesial matters, love means respecting others, listening to them, and learning from them.  It means lowering the walls of self-imposed isolation and dropping the rhetoric of supremacy.

Only then can fear subside and love prevail.

It is lot to expect, but not more than God can do.

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘The Inner Voice of Love’ (Doubleday, 1996).  Notice he did not say moving from hatred to love.  He believed (along with other psychologists) that hatred is an outward manifestation of an inner fear.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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