“There is no fear in love,” she repeated to herself, “perfect love casts out fear.” She had always found these words of the apostle comforting, but now they frightened her. They frightened her because she was afraid, and if she was afraid, did that mean her love was lacking?
She turned the thought around in her mind. Martyrdom had always been a possibility, the authorities didn’t like Christians very much, and every so often things would get nasty. Local officials, or sometimes even the emperor himself, would suddenly decide that Christians must be exterminated, or at least cowed into submission, and experiment with new refinements of cruelty to achieve their political ends and satisfy the blood-lust of the crowd at one and the same time. But not here, not now, and not to her. It was easy, in the fervour of worshipping her crucified and risen Lord, to say, “Yes, I would gladly die for Him!” It was much harder here, in this dank, dark, foetid underground cell to feel the same enthusiasm.
And, did it have to be wild beasts? She could have faced sword or arrow; even fire, though she shuddered at the thought of the pain, did not invoke the same wild terror. But she had always been scared of creatures – even mice evoked in her that shuddering horror of being devoured.
But did this fear, this soul-shaking, gut-devouring fear, mean that she didn’t really love Him? She looked around in the almost-darkness at the others in her prison. Some were praying quietly, some even seemed to be asleep. And she was supposed to be like them, so full of faith that nothing done to the body could ever worry her very much? She wondered if anyone else was going through this same torment of terror as she was, but how could she ask without disturbing them. If anyone had a morsel of strength, a morsel of comfort to hold onto at this hour, the last thing she would want to do would be to take it away from them. If only there was a way she could know it too! In the silence of her soul she cried out, “Lord, help me, for I cannot help myself!”
All was quiet, all was still. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the panic pressing in, and her imagination was gripped by a strange picture. There was a hillside garden, with twisted, ancient trees, and the grass moving faintly in the breeze. A full moon was overhead, and in its cold bright light she could see a man kneeling, utterly alone, and the distress on his upturned face was terrible to see. A little away, almost out of sight, other men were sleeping. Didn’t they care? And then, between one breath and the next, she realised what she was seeing. She could almost hear the words: “Let this cup pass from me.” Deep inside her a silent sob shuddered, followed by wonder.
How could this be? If ever anyone had loved perfectly ... and yet, there was no doubting the anguish on His face, the agony of His words .. Oh, she knew all the theology they had told her, how it was humanity’s sin and death and pain He was entering into, but still, it was Him, and He was afraid.
Another picture rose up before her. There was no mistaking this one: the hill, shaped like a skull, the three crosses on its summit. And there was no mistaking the words that He said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Here, in terrible pain, gripped by the very teeth of Hell, He was in absolute peace. Why?
And then she understood. He knew the Love that held Him, the love that flowed from the Father through the Son to all mankind. He was going home to Love. And so was she. A short pain, a little space, and there would be nothing except Love, perfect love, the Love that casts out fear. On that Love she could rest every thought, every fear. It was God’s love for her, not her love for Him, that was going to bring her home. For it was the very same apostle who had written, “We love Him because He first loved us.”