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The Fear of God (13)

Pope Shenouda III | 14 November 2009

Love & Fear of God
Fear precedes love and continues with it


Many people turn away from the fear of God and hold to love, without knowing what fear is, what love is, or what the relation between them is! In fact it is good to hold to the love of God, but to reach it we have to start with fear.

The fear of God is the beginning of the way, whereas the end of the way is love. So we cannot proceed on the way from its end!
We have a guide in the Holy Scripture that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 9: 10; Ps 111: 10). Through the fear of God we get used to obey the commandments, whereas the love of God is the end of the way and the crown of the spiritual work, because on it hang all the law and the prophets (Mt 22: 40)! Whoever attains love will never need any other commandment, since it contains all virtues.

A wise person proceeds on the way from its beginning by fear, and the fear of God will lead him to love.
If a person commits or even desires to sin, he will not have the fear of God in his heart. So, a person has to begin with fear, that is, repent and shun sin, however lovely it may be to his heart, obey the commandments even against his will, and practice the means of grace whether prayer, reading, or praises, even though he may do this out of obedience not out of love, being in a state where, "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another." (Gal 5: 17)

A beginner in the spiritual life, who is not yet freed from sin, tries to force himself to stop sinning for fear of God's anger and fearing to fall and grieve God's Spirit and be exposed to punishment. But this will not continue long.        
Fear cleanses the heart and makes it deserve to be an abode for the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit pours the love of God within the heart (Rom 5: 5). Then a person will move from fear to love.

However, such a change does not happen all at once.
It may be attained after a long time of struggle and of the work of the grace within a person. Through such struggling and forcing of oneself a person proves to the Lord how far he holds to Him and labors for His sake. So when God sees the earnestness of such a person He will say to him, 'enough!' and will pour His love in his heart and frees him from the struggling against sin and the fear of falling.
However, in spite of the obviousness of this way, some hold to a wrong understanding, as concerning the words of St. John, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear." (1 Jn 4: 18) Therefore let us analyze these words and see what degree of spirituality they address, and whether they contradict the concept of beginning with the fear of God.

Probably the apostle here meant by fear terror of the Day of Judgment, because he follows this with the words, "because fear involves torment". St. Paul the Apostle likewise said, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb 10: 31) However, it is proper to exclaim:
Has anybody ever attained that perfect love which casts out fear? And what is perfect love?
Some person may pretend that he loves God, while being actually very far from that. The proper test of such a person's love is how far he keeps God's commandments or breaks them! The Lord says, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love," "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me." (Jn 15: 10; 14: 21) St. John further says it clearly, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments," "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him." (1 Jn 5: 3; 2: 4, 5)

Therefore we have first to keep the commandments, and this requires the fear of God which may prevent us from committing sin and helps us keep the commandments. Let us not deceive ourselves saying that we have already attained the love of God, while we sin and grieve the Spirit of God within us (Eph 4: 30). Who sins has not attained love or fear, and has not even begun the spiritual way!

A person may have the fear of God, but neither resists Him nor loves Him, he is then in the darkness away from God's light, for the apostle says, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1 Jn 1: 6) and of course walking in darkness causes fear. So, if the love of God requires keeping His commandments, what then is that perfect love which casts out fear?! Who attains perfect love will be kindled with the love of God, and this love will burn in him any longing for sin. He will even be unable to sin (1 Jn 3: 9). The love of God will overwhelm him completely, his heart, his mind, and his time as well. So he will love God with all his heart, all his mind, all his soul, and all his power (Deut 6:5; Mt 22: 37).

The mind will be attached to God day and night, as a sign of perfect love. And whoever attains this will never be afraid of course.
If some would like to refer to the words of St. Anthony the Great to his disciples, 'My children, I do not fear God", let them see what he said to them when they said to him' 'this is hard to say, father!" for he replied, saying: 'It is because I love Him, and love casts out fear.' Now let me ask: 'Is there anybody who has attained that degree of love for God as St. Anthony?!' Such great saints like St. Anthony had attained a great degree of fellowship and familiarity with God, continual talk with Him, and emptying the heart of all things except God alone.

Is it proper that we claim for ourselves the same degree of spirituality of the saints which we do not have, and repeat their words while being in a lower degree?!           
Have we attained that degree of spirituality that burns all that is in the heart of lust of the body and material, to the extent that any love competing the love of God in our hearts disappears, and the heart renounces everything, counting all things as rubbish compared to the love of Christ?! Have we attained that degree in which St. Augustine said, 'I sat over the top of the world when I felt within me that I desire nothing, nor fear anything.' Are you in such a degree?!

But if you still have in your heart any love for the world or its lusts, you have not yet attained that perfect love for God which casts out fear.
Can you put yourself on the same level of St. Anthony who said his famous words after dozens of years of asceticism in fellowship and secret talk with God?!

Besides those words of St. Anthony about love that casts out fear, he spoke about fear of God.
He said, 'As light entering a house dispels its darkness and lights it, so also the fear of God entering man's heart removes away ignorance and teaches him all virtues and wisdom.' 'Wherever you go put the fear of God before your eyes, and whatever you do have for it a testimony from the Scriptures.'

Do not say then, 'I have attained that perfect love that casts out fear, but say rather, 'I want to love You, but I have not attained yet that perfect love, so give it to me. I walk in fear, and you give me love. Did You not say, "You were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things." (Mt 25: 21) Would that I be faithful in the few which is fear, that You may make me ruler over the many which is love. I will attempt to walk in fear and not disobey Your commandments, and You train me in love, or rather pour love in my heart by Your Holy Spirit.'

I cannot attain even fear without You!
You have said, "Without Me you can do nothing." (Jn 15: 5) Yes, we can do nothing, neither much nor little, without You. So, teach me, O Lord, how I can begin the way with You. Help me to attain that fear of You and live in obedience to You, and be faithful in this obedience and in this fear. Then You will give me love as a free gift from You.
Fear is the strong basis on which love is built and which keeps it from fall or relapse, for the Lord says to the angel of the church in Ephesus, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love." (Rev 2: 4) And St. Paul the Apostles says about the Galatians that they, having begun in the Spirit, they became perfect by the flesh (Gal 3: 3). This is because they had not the fear of God before them!
Fear is the strong basis which protects from relapse, therefore the Lord corrected the angel of the church in Ephesus who had left his first love by fear, saying to him, "… else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent." (Rev 2: 5)

Love is the original state, which we may lose by sin, but may be restored by fear. Fear then is a protection and a treatment; a protection from sin, preventing us from committing it. And if the lust of sin was stronger within us than the fear of God and we fell and became far from love, the fear of God will restore us from our fall through repentance. This same fear makes us seek reconciliation with God and return to His love.
One more question needs to be tackled is:
If we attain love, shall our fear come to an end completely? Nay! How is that?
This is what we will speak about next week, God willing.            
 

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