Thursday, July 18, 2019

What is Fear of God?

Saint Theophan says,
In moral and religious life, the fear of God moves and urges one to carry out the will of God...
Saint Athanassios says,
Make me firm in Thy words, unfailingly protecting me by Thy fear; let Thy fear be upon me, keeping me in fear and letting me not go astray from Thy words.
But I thought God was about love. If He loves me and I love Him what is there to fear? I have always had an aversion to the call the deacon makes at the time of offering Holy Communion to the faithful: “With the fear of God, faith and love draw near.”  Initially I wanted to substitute the word awe for the word fear. What I have since learned is that there is more than one way to think of fear.

Saint Theophan says,
Fear of God is a distinctive feature and a true sign of whether one stands on the true path. If you have it you are in good condition; if not, in bad condition, even if in your behavior no bad deeds are apparent.
Hmm, what is the meaning of fear as it is being used by our saints, elders and in our liturgies? Blessed Anthimos gives us an explanation. He says there are two types of fear. For the first he uses the example of a slave who does not love his master, or even care about his aim, but yet out of fear of being punished he does not violate what he wills for him to do to carry out his aim. This is action done out of fear of punishment if the action is not done. In spiritual life this may be where a beginner is, one who has not perfected his love of God and fears that if he does not follow his commandments he may be punished with difficulties in this life as well as the one to come. He sees God as a heartless task master.

To describe the second kind of fear he uses the example of a friend.  When you have a close friend you love dearly and feel reciprocal love, there is a fear that you might lose this loving relationship, that you will lose their love. This is a perfect kind of fear that can be found in our spiritual life. Those who fear God in this way see God as a loving friend, one you love deeply and you know that He loves you even more. Your fear is that you will lose His love. So you try very hard to do what He expects from you. 

Saint Augustine says, 
God establishes His word in those to whom He gives the spirit of His fear—not the spirit of bondage again to fear (Rom 8:15), which is driven away by perfect love, but the spirit of that fear of which one fears to offend the loved one.
To often we are guided by the fear of the slave, not having yet the perfected love of God. There is a progression, Saint Theophan points out. Our fear in relation to God is “at first that of a slave, then that of a hireling, and then that of a son.” The fear of the slave is OK in the beginning, but we do not want to stay in this view. We should strive to move to a higher level until we reach the feelings of a loving son of his father. 

When we listen to sermons from mainly Protestant denominations we frequently hear a message geared to the slave. We are portrayed as slaves of God and must act against our will to do His will to avoid God's fierce punishment. We must have compassion on these people and pray that they will eventually move to a higher level where a more loving relationship is fully developed with God. This progression is important because when we have the motivation to do His will out of love, the second kind of fear will give us greater zeal for God. Motivation that comes out of love is always stronger that the motivation to avoid punishment.

Saint Theophan says,
Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom... As true wisdom begins with fear of God, and there is no spiritual wisdom without such fear, so should fear not be without wisdom. Holy fear is like a base for the word (wisdom).
Prophet David writes: 
Establish for Thy servant Thine oracle unto fear of Thee. (Psalm 118:38)
Saint Theophan comments on this,
The Prophet is asking God to teach him to incline his heart to do everything to please Him alone, to do good not just out of a sense of duty, not just because of the demand of moral dignity of a rational being, but especially because that is what the will of God, Holy and pleasing, requires, because God wants it this way.
When you hear the deacon’s call to approach the chalice with fear, remember the second kind of fear. You are more than a slave in God’s eyes. He is calling you with love and faith as well, a love you never want to lose, a faith that is unshakable. You love Him so much you want to be with Him always and never lose the feeling of His love.

Saint Porphyrios says,
Christ is everything. He is our love. He is the object of our desire. The passionate longing for Christ is a love that cannot be taken away. 
The concept of fear (1st type) is good in the initial stages. It is for beginners... the beginner, whose sensibility has not yet been refined , is held back from evil by fear... But if we examine the matter more closely we see that it is governed by self-interest.... As we progress, the Gospel leads us to understand that Christ is joy and truth, that Christ is Paradise. Saint John the evangelist says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. The person who fear (like the slave) is not perfected in love. (Wounded by Love, pp  96, 105)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 107-109.

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