I am driving home enjoying the afternoon sun as I return from a fairly normal day at the office. Occasionally I glance at the speedo, check my mirrors and anticipate what may be ahead, but generally I am pretty relaxed and maybe a little carefree in my daily driving habits.
But today, on one of those glances in the rear vision mirror, I notice a traffic cop has appeared from nowhere and pulled into my lane - right behind me.
My demeanour and sense of peace immediately changes. My heart beats a bit faster and questions race through my head.
Is my speed above what it should be?
Have I changed lanes without signalling?
Have I failed to give way to another car that had right-of-way?
My driving habits change. I am now more careful. I check my speedo and mirrors more frequently. My level of attention has upped significantly. My concentration is on high alert. I am now "back at work" rather than taking a leisurely, relaxing drive home.
Why have all these changes happened?
Simple - I'm afraid.
I am driven by the fear of doing something wrong and the consequences that will bring.
Even though I know the cop is there to keep me and others on the road safe, am I endeared to him? Do I love him?
The best I can say is that I respect his position and authority.
But more truthfully, I fear him and fear what he can do to me.
And, O, how relieved I am when I see him disappear from my field of view, having turned off at the intersection I just crossed - heart rate back to normal, sitting more relaxed behind the wheel, level of concentration back to leisure level..... phew!
That's how many people relate to God. It was the norm in Old Testament times, and too often the norm today, even amongst Christians.
We fear God and what He can do to us because of the mistakes we have made, continue to make, and will probably make in the future.
In one regional city where I lived, I got to know a traffic cop really well through business and church connections. I would see him on the roads quite often and sometimes he would be in my lane travelling right behind me.
My driving skills made the usual improvements when he was around so that I wouldn't do anything wrong.
But it wasn't because I feared him or feared what he could do to me. I just didn't want to embarrass him or give him the unpleasant task of having to make any hard decisions about me.
I respected his position and authority as much as any other cop in town, but I cared about him and didn't want to make his life or job more difficult because of his relationship with me.
It was interesting to note that although my driving improved when he was around, my heart rate didn't increase or my sense of peace didn't evaporate. I was in the same relaxed state as when there the road was free of traffic cops, just my attention to my driving improved.
It was easy to see that I performed better on the road because I loved him and cared for him, not because I feared him. Same result on the road - but for entirely different reasons.
My love for him removed the need for me to fear him. Fear just wasn't relevant. Driving improvement occured without it.
Fearing God has us behaving better, and that was the point of the law for those who lived under it in Old Testament times. It was better for each individual and for society as a whole.
But Jesus came to abolish that law and to show us that God is love and desires a relationship of love with each of us.
If we love him we will live the way he desires us to.
And there will be no room or need for fear in that relationship.
In fact the Bible says that perfect love drives out fear [1 John 4 : 18 ].
How much better is it to realise that God really does love us and invites us into a relationship of love with Him - better than living in fear that God might pounce on us when we don't meet the full requirements of the law.