A few years ago my family and I traveled to Panama City Beach in Florida for our annual Festival of Tabernacles celebration and convention with our church. One afternoon my younger daughter and I were enjoying the delicious sunshine and beaches, and separately waded into the Gulf waters and paddled around, lazy and oblivious to everything going on beyond the beach itself.
I came up from a dip from under the surface and glanced ashore, where I saw my friends, jumping, waving their arms in a frenzy, and yelling at me while pointing in my direction. I had no idea what was going on.
Until I saw it.
Coming toward me was a large twelve-foot long creature. Honestly, at first glance I thought I was looking at a dolphin. But then I realized that a dolphin is not a dull brown.
I have a dozen friends who witnessed this and can vouch for the fact that this hammerhead shark was swimming straight toward me – and then veered off to my left after getting within a yard. I could have literally reached out and touched the thing and nearly did.
You might think I was scared out of my mind and hurried to shore as fast as I could, but you would be wrong. My daughter was out farther than I and was oblivious to what was happening.
I could see the shark weaving around, and I half swam and half stumbled through the waters yelling “Get out of the water! Now! Get out! Now!”
Middle-teen that she was, she protested and wanted to know why, which only compelled me to move farther from shore and closer to her.
Clearly we both escaped without injury, but as I stood on the beach watching the huge ugly fish meandering around the shallow waters, someone asked me if I was afraid while everything was happening. I was not – not as long as my daughter was out there and I was trying to get her in. “But right now,” I said, “I’m shaking like a leaf.” And I was.
My perfect love for my daughter overrode my fear, and I did what I had to without hesitation and without regard for danger.
When John wrote, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), he was talking about a universal principle. Ten years ago the passengers of Flight 93 must have had some apprehension about storming the cockpit of a hijacked plane, but knowing that doing so would save lives, they performed an extreme act of love and courage. That love cast out their fear.
I wonder if Jesus, when facing the last few hours of his life, was emoting fear when he shouted, “Father, if there is any way to let this cup pass from me, let it pass!” But when we read his prayer in John 17, we see his focus changing to his disciples and to us. We hear him talking about his need to die for all mankind, and that love cast out his fear.
“Perfect love casts out fear” might be difficult to understand in the abstract, but it is very real in the acts of heroism that go on every day. That’s important to remember on this September 11 and every September 11 to follow.
By the way, after my near handshake with that shark, my friends were all gathered around me speculating why the shark turned away after getting a good look at me. My old buddy Kevin, I think, had it right. Sharks don’t like Italian food.