Tuesday, April 01, 2014


I know originally the term "god-fearing" referred more to reverence than to terror, but the implication is still there. Traditionally powers, whether King or master or father, were reverenced out of fear. That's how the two came together. It was the responsibility of the authority to maintain the command structure. If people began thinking and doing their own thing, all the world's organization would come crumbling down. It's all based on the idea that God appoints and ordains kings and masters and fathers to rule over their subjects, servant, and families. It was all one big, safe, organized hierarchical structure.

You feared those in authority because if you didn't there would be swift action - not just because the power is capricious or particularly in need of respect, but because here was an obligation to maintain the God-ordained order of the world.

Well, we'd mostly say that's a faulty, antiquated way of looking at things, but we still, in many places, tend to use the idea of God-fearing as an appropriate model. In fact, the places where this is most prevalent tend to be the places where that harsh, rigid, top-down authority structure is still most active (at least in the back of everyone's mind, if not overtly).

I don't think we're supposed to fear God, in any respect. Respect, honor, appreciate, sure - those are good things, but they shouldn't have anything to do with fear.

The immediate response is, of course, about sinners - people who are not living and acting in ways consistent with God's intentions for the world better be afraid because God deals out justice. Although, here, I think, we're confusing punishment and justice. Punishment is the inflicting of pain (physical or otherwise) as a deterrent to future bad action. Justice is simply the righting of a wrong. The effects of justice may be uncomfortable (perhaps painful in some way), but the action itself does not have that intention.

If I lose focus driving and clip the back of a parked car, I'm going to have to pay for the damages (either out of pocket or through insurance). That's justice (or at least restitution). Now $800 worth of body work may feel like punishment to someone making minimum wage; it's hardly a concern for a millionaire.

Similarly, when someone is caught driving drunk, we take away their license for a period of time (or, at least, we do sometimes) - that's punishment. There is no actual offense, only a possible offense prevented. The punishment is intended to cause pain in hopes of deterring a repeat performance. If the drunk driver causes an accident, well then they generally get restitution (justice) and punishment - and that, most certainly, will be painful (maybe twice over).

All of this to say: God is not in the punishment business. We live in a world where our bad actions generally result in appropriate consequences - not karma, per say, but the things we do affect us and often in ways that aren't immediately apparent. Even people who escape the punishment and "justice" of our courts still retain the effects of their actions. That's just how the world works.

God isn't up there pulling strings to punish and reward people according to each daily action. It only feels that way sometimes because we refuse to take responsibility for what we do. We have too small a view of the world around us and the magnificence of God's creation.

This also has a converse benefit, though. Some people "fear" God simply because, often, doing the good, Godly thing means living rightly in the world and those good actions are more likely, over time, to make life a bit easier. But even such "fear" is not fear of God, but fear of natural consequences - and often that "fear" actually shapes and forms people into better versions of themselves. The world works that way, too. You do things they way they were intended to be done, and there are tangible benefits.

God's not in the business of fear. One of the bedrock principles from the Bible I try to wrap my life around is simply that God is love and perfect love drives out all fear. There is no place for fear in the world. Yes, we are afraid - and there are plenty of things that can and will hurt us. It's not that it's wrong to be afraid, just that it's not what God intends for us. God is not a god of fear.

I don't want to be God-fearing and I don't want anyone else to be either. Our reverence and respect for God should be out of overwhelming joy in God's love, grace, and kindness - not in fear. Doing something because you're afraid of the consequences is not real life.

I'll admit, loving or respecting God is a bit easier if you believe God is not about punishment, but about justice. Because justice - true justice - while at times uncomfortable in the short term, is refreshingly safe over the long haul. Things will be made right - not in an ominous, punishing way - but in the sense of wholeness and restoration. Yes, that might be a little discomfort now, but in the end: peace and joy.

We shouldn't be God-fearing. Fear is not what God's about.

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