The Bible is scarcely consistent, even in some of its most basic dicta. There is of course a good reason for that, which is unfortunately lost on the most devout believers in revealed religion, who regard the Bible as originating in the mind of God. The Bible's texts are written at different times in various cultural locations by human authors, who quite naturally have different views. For example in one of its most basic pronouncements, as to how believers should relate to God, biblical texts have a range of responses. The basic guidance is that believers should "fear the Lord." Paul, for example, condemned people, whom he regarded as being under the power of sin, because "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18; Psalm 35:1 LXX). "The fear of the Lord" is the classic expression for being a pious servant of Yahweh in Israelite religion (Deuteronomy 6:2; Exodus 20:20; Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; 3:7; compare Acts 10:34-35; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7), and appropriately enough pious non-Israelites, who worshipped in synagogues, were called "God Fearers" (Acts 10:2, 22; 13:16).
Jesus tells a story (Luke 18:2-5) about a judge hearing a case in which the plaintiff is a widow lady who badgers the judge to rule in her favor. The judge, however, prides himself on his integrity as a judge who calls cases on their merits. He says of himself "though I neither fear God nor regard man" (18:4)—and the narrator actually introduces him that way, as a judge who doesn't fear God or show deference in his judgments (18:2). "Fearing God" would signal the traditional religious deference a pious person would render to God; "regarding man" would reflect deference one would pay to influential and powerful persons in the community. In neither assertion does love play a role.
Nevertheless alongside this typical expression for piety in Israel (fear of the Lord) are found injunctions to love God (Deut 10:12; 6:2; 6:5). In Sirach these two responses (fearing and loving) are paralleled as two sides of the same emotion (Sirach 2:15-16). The two emotions strike me, however, as inconsistent responses, and the author of 1 John had a similar response: "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love." (1 John 4:18; compare 4:13-17). A relationship based on fear would produce anxiety, which contains the seeds of uncertainty, doubt, and mistrust. It is hardly a wholesome relationship (Hebrews 12:18-21; Matthew 28:4; Mark 16:8).
A relationship based on fear prompts obedience because of what the dominant controlling party can impose on the lesser party, such as the relationship between a slave and the slave's owner (Ephesians 6:5). Occasionally a modern translator will render the Greek word fear (φόβος; "phobos") as awe, which doesn't help, since awe communicates dread or terror (Mark 4:41; Romans 11:20). Sometimes awe as a translation does not do justice to the Greek text; for example in Mark 4:41 the Greek is "feared greatly."
The lexicographers, who survey how words are used in the New Testament and by writers elsewhere in antiquity, tell us that the verbal forms of fear (φοβέω, "phobeo") carry the idea of "reverence" or "respect for." Nevertheless reverence, honor, deference, veneration, and the like still contain the idea of fearful obeisance and awe. At least it is something very different from what I understand as love: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:6); "Love is patient and kind" (1 Corinthians 13:4). "Love does not insist on its own way" (1 Corinthians 13:5). "Faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). Little of love seems reflected in the dominant way God is understood in Hebrew Bible.
Perhaps the problem, however, is not God's character, about which we actually know very little. We only know what others have told us—and that includes the testimonies of the authors of the biblical texts. The problem is the manifold ways that we humans view God. In a sense God is always subject to what we think about God. And we frequently must choose between contradictory views, as in this case: do we love God or fear God? How is it possible truly to love someone before whom you must always be terribly afraid?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
Thanks for this thoughtful analysis. I would express disagreement on several points.
The baseline, I think, is that one cannot rationalize the existence of God. For example, as soon as one postulates a first cause or creator one is forced to the question of who/what caused the first cause or creator.
That leaves us with the basic nature of reality as unknown. One can quite easily fear the unknown. Is it punishing, welcoming, absorbing, ignoring. Fear is quite readily built in to that system, but it is also accompanied by caution and curiosity.
On the other hand there is no way to love the unknown. A loving relationship can only be revealed.
Jesus followers claim to have that revelation.
Good Morning Gene!
I agree with your two points: It is natural to fear the unknown, but love for the unknown is an irrational response. All I was trying to do was show only one of the many ways that the collection of texts we call the Bible works against itself.
But I do have a couple of quibbles. Postulating a creator as the first cause of everything does not inevitably "force" the question "What caused the first cause."
Loving relationships in the human sphere at least are not based on "revelation" but on experience.
Charlie, I have a question about the "God-fearers." Is there any other reference to those individuals in ancient texts other than Acts? I am interested in information regarding non-Jewish individuals who attended services in Jewish temples and how they were treated. I know of no other reference to them historically. I wonder if Philo or Josephus spoke of them?
If there is no fear in love, and God is love, then why should we fear Him? I'd love to hear a pastor tackle that one. It's concept we were spoon fed at an early age that has gone unquestioned and we are just expected to accept that premise without reason. I'm glad you pointed out that contradiction.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth
Good Afternoon Elizabeth,
There are other sources for "God-Fearers." There is a short essay on Wikipedia (google: "god-fearers."
There is a short essay in the Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible under "Proselytes" that includes a short discussion of "God-Fearers" Volume 3 (K-Q), pages 928-929.
By far the most extensive that I know of is F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, The Acts of the Apostles (1979), volume 5 pages 74-96: under note VIII "Proselytes and God-Fearers." The sources include other ancient writers and inscriptions and papyri (Philo and Josephus do mention them).
Your discussion about the character of God is a bit misguided. It is rather a discussion about the testmonies of the authors of Biblical texts. To paraphrase: "We only know what others have told us about the nature of God, and that includes the testimonies of the authors of the Biblical texts."
Enlightened mankind now knows a great deal about the nature of God-God being the creator of the Universe. The nature of the creator is continually being revealed by the close observation of the nature and operation of the Universe. Of the many characteristics now clearly observable, we have no need to either fear or love the creator.
Good Afternoon Jim,
As usual you challenge us to think outside the box. I have a question and a comment.
Why do you assume that the character of the universe reflects a creator?
My comment is a bit longer. The essay was not about the character of God but rather about how the writers of the biblical texts said humans should respond to God.
With respect to your suggestion about the "created" universe "revealing" the creator: The universe is all about order and demanding compliance with its ordered existence. In religious language there is no forgiveness. I am reminded of the poet's dictum: "nature is red in tooth and claw." In other words, if you are correct that one can project the nature of the creator behind the creation, s/he seems a rather rigid and unforgiving sort--perhaps even cruel.
Charlie, do you think the writers of biblical texts portrayed fear as a good thing, a positive thing, something we should cultivate? It seems that way to me. What about your pastor? Does he promote a view of fear as if it is healthy and normal something to view as a protection from evil? In other words- do the church leaders of today (or of the past) portray fear as something that protects us from sin and/or evil?
Thank you as always, Elizabeth
PS: What is your view of fear? Is it helpful or harmful?
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I presume that those texts describing "fear of the Lord" as a proper response to God would regard it as a necessary thing and hence beneficial to humankind, but I have not surveyed all the uses of the "fear of the Lord" in the biblical canon. And I don't have the data to answer your broad survey question about the attitudes of past and present church leaders regarding whether or not "fear of the Lord" would protect one from sin and or evil. From my own perspective the emotional response of fear can be both a positive and negative thing depending on the situation and how we react to it.
You asked a challenging question and made an observation @ my comment above:
1. Jim, why do you assume the character of the universe reflects the creator? Ans. My assumption seems both logical and appeals to my intuition.
2. Jim, Such a creator seems rather rigid and unforgiving-even cruel.
Outside of living organisms, the universe reflects NO emotion. The universe appears otherwise to be completely without emotion, thus perhaps one may say cruel and ridge. I see the universe at beautifully objective, consistent, even just. I like to think of the universe as being primarily similar to gravity or heat or light. Think of the characteristics of these universal components and transfer them to the Creator. Only when more advanced living organisms came into being, humans being the highest form were emotions existing within the universe. We see emotions in no other component of the universe.
Did human emotions come from the Creator? Yes! Living organismc appear to have unique charactics apart from all the rest of the universe.
So Charlie, are you saying it doesn't disturb you to be told that in order to love God, you must first fear him? Like you said, none of us have personally met God. All we know is what we are taught about him, or read about him from sacred texts. Have you ever questioned a spiritual teacher and asked why are we supposed to fear God and love him at the same time?
I never have, but I'm sure they would come back with "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." from the book of Proverbs. Very few parishioners question these contradictions so we may never fully understand why they are continually fed to us from the pulpit.
Thank you, Elizabeth
PS: This question is for both you and Jim: He stated "living" organisms appear to have unique characteristics apart from the rest of the Universe... What part of the Universe is not living? I cannot think of any aspect of the Universe that isn't living, other than man-made objects and machines. Don't you consider a star or a planet or a galaxy to be a living thing?
Good Morning Jim,
With regard to my question, I was specifically asking why did it seem logical to you? One of the things we have learned in studying narrative literature (i.e., the gospels) is that it is a fallacy to think that "the flesh and blood author," that is the figure who wrote the narrative is to be identified with the implied author, that is the figure a critic constructs lying behind what is written in the narrative. In other words the "real author" is not to be confused with the implied author. It applies in this case as follows: the actual creator behind the creation is not to be confused with the figure someone infers from observing the creation.
I don't get upset when others tell me how I should respond to God. I listen to see if they "know the territory" (quote from the Music Man). I determine that by asking questions and evaluating answers. I have never asked a "spiritual teacher" (I have never had a spiritual teacher) how they resolved the fear/love contradiction, primarily because I did not know about the problem till I wrote the essay.
Your question "What part of the universe is not living?" depends on what you mean by "living." A rock is not living by my definition--although people talk metaphorically about the "living rock." A rock is inert matter. And if rock is not alive neither are planets, although they may have living things on it. Nor are stars or galaxies alive, in the sense that I am using the term.
Re: Living objects
Charlie & Elizabeth,
When the word "living" is used, it can be related to inert objects, e.g. "living will" or it can be related to biological objects, e.g. plants & animals. The latter should be accompanied with the word organism, i.e. living organism. Elizabeth may have been thinking of the former whereas I was thinking of (and stated) the latter.
A very high form of living organisms, i.e. some animals & humans experience emotions like fear & love. Seemingly only humans have yet experience God.
Post a Comment