Monday, March 24, 2014

Fear of God - What Does This Mean?

I have always wondered about the meaning of this common phrase, "Fear of God." I never saw God as one to be feared but as one who was loving. There always seemed to be a contradiction in my mind when I heard this phrase. So what does it mean?

In Scripture it says, "perfect love casts out fear" (1John 4:15). Then in Psalms the prophet says, "Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints" (Ps 34:9).  So even those who have perfect love, the saints, also fear Him. Saint Dorotheos clarified this for me.  He says there are two kinds of fear.  One is the fear of a beginner and the other is that of a saint. The first fears God because he is afraid of going to Hell.  The other seeks to please God because he loves Him. In this later case the fear is not one of being afraid of some punishment, but, because he has "tasted the sweetness of being with God," he does not want to lose it. He calls this perfect fear.

From Saint Basil we also find an explanation of the differing kinds of fear.  He says there are three states that we can please God.
   1.) By fearing Hell and following His commandments. In this case we are like a slave.
   2.) By doing His commandments to receive the reward of eternal life or peace. In this case we are like a laborer.
    3). By pleasing God out of love for Him. In this case we are a son of God.

We can love God and fear God at the same time. If we are doing good to avoid punishment in Hell, this is good because it will lead us to the next level where we will be seeking the glorious rewards of eternal life with God in heaven. Now, instead of punishment, we fear we will not gain the rewards.  Finally, we will develop such a love for God that all our actions will be done simply because we love Him and want to be united with Him. We now fear losing this intimate relationship.  We move from fear of punishment, to hope, and then to being united with Him in Love. At each level we are led by fear to avoid evil and to strive for what is good in the eyes of God.

Most of us probably find ourselves in the stage of a laborer. We have lifted ourselves above the struggles of fearing punishment in Hell. We now strive to do His will without concerns about being criticized or oppressed.  We labor hard in our efforts to be a good Christians, all the time with the hope of the life to come.

Why do the fathers say the we attain fear of God when we remember death and Hell? Saint Dorotheos answers this with the negative. He says that if we do not remember death and Hell we expel the fear of God from us. "That is, when we have neither remembrance of death or Hell; when we do not examine ourselves, we do not question ourselves as to how we spend our lives, but we live indifferently and keep company with those who are indifferent." Without this fear of God we become bold through the exercise of our self-will. We lose our respect for others and act in ways, physical or verbal, that others will describe as bold. We need to have the fear of God but with devotion. He says, "So that when you meet each other you bow your head to your brother, each humbling himself before his brother, and cutting off his own will."

We must first know the first level of fear and become a slave before we can become a laborer or a son. If not we face the possibility of being indifferent and becoming bold in our relations with others, acting without proper respect for them.

Saint Dorotheos relates the saying he heard over and over from His elder who would tell him as he departed,  "Let God preserve Love over anything else," followed by one of the following: "Guarding you neighbor's conscience gives birth to humility"; "Never put your will before that of your brother"; "Leave the things of the world"; "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

He then explains how we can live this way. He says that in whatever task we are doing it should be done "without contention or commotion." You must remember that "whether it is great or small, it is one eighth of what is asked of us." The other seven-eights is doing our work without "contention or commotion." So even if we fail on the one-eighth we can keep something that is even higher, inner peace. Of course we must pursue our tasks carefully, trying to do them properly.  But even more important is to preserve our inner state of peace.  He tells his monks that if he sends one of them to do a task and they see that it will harm them or cause a disturbance, stop and put the work aside leaving it unfinished.

We must think about this in our daily lives.  How often we put the tasks we are assigned over our peaceful relationships with others, at work as well as in our family and with friends.  He is instructing us to give a greater priority to the harmonious relationship than to the achievement of a task.  He is not asking us to  become indifferent or careless in our actions, but to raise our efforts directed to carrying things out to a higher standard. He says,
Give your whole strength to fulfilling all your services with love and humility, submitting to each other, honoring and comforting each other. I dong this nothing is more powerful than humility. However, if one of you sees his neighbor or himself upset at some time, stop the work, withdraw and give way to each other, do not persist, so that harm does not follow. It is better, as I have said a thousand times, not to fulfill the duty as you want, but as needs be, and not obstinately or insisting on one's right. .... Hasten with love and fear of God, to seek the benefit of each other. Thus with the help of God you will be able to profit and make progress from anything that happens.
This is the way of life you are led to with the fear of God.

Do as the deacon commands when he calls the faithful to Communion in the Divine Liturgy saying,  "With the fear of God, faith and love draw near."

Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teaching on the Christian Life, pp 109 - 120

1 comment:

  1. Thanks and with the fear of God to draw near loved ones!
    With love of blogging, Steven. God helps us!


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