The Fear of God (14)
Pope Shenouda III | 21 November 2009
Love & Fear together
Fear means awe
St. Mar Ishak said, 'Fear of God precedes love of God'; 'Fear is God's staff that leads us to the love of God'; 'We cannot cross the river without a ship, and likewise nobody can cross unto the love of God without repentance and fear. Repentance is the ship, fear is the captain, and love is the harbor of peace and honor where those who are tired can find their rest.'
•Fear leads to love and is never separated from it. And love is higher than fear but does not conflict with it.
When you attain to such a higher level, you do not lose the lower one. It is like the staircase or the level of a university student who has completed the secondary and preparatory education and became in a higher level. He cannot forget the lower education, but rather builds on it. The lower studies continue in the university student's mind, and more is added to them without conflict.
Fear leads to love, and guards it. Love keeps fear within it, even though under a different name!
Those who leave fear may also leave their first love and fall, and need to repent, as the case with the angel of the church in Ephesus who had love and labored for the Lord's name and was not tired (Rev 2: 3- 5).
Whoever attains perfect love will have within many things pertaining to fear, such as: caution, strictness, seriousness, and commitment.
Such a person will also keep in his heart the struggling and the keeping of the commandments, having got used to them in the life of fear he had followed. Repentance and contrition and tears also will continue with him. But if a person who loves God has not experienced nor kept all such things on his spiritual way, no doubt he will have lost the way to God.
Whoever wants to jump into love without experiencing fear, will fall into negligence and audacity.
St. Anthony the Great, on saying to his disciples that he had no fear of God, no doubt meant the state he had reached, not that with which he had begun. It is evidently clear that he started with fear when he saw his father's dead body and said: 'You have left the world against your will, but I will leave it with my own will before they bring me forcibly out of it.'
Fear is like the roots of a tree. The tree grows, rises, and yields fruit, but the roots remain as they are. Though hidden the tree cannot dispense with them, otherwise it will die.
• As for the words, "Perfect love casts out fear", they mean 'it casts out terror'.
It is that terror of the lake of fire and brimstone, and of the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth (Rev 20: 10; Mt 13: 43). It is the fear of such an awful end of which the apostle said, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb 10: 31) So, a person who attains such perfect love will never fear to be separated from God and cast into that outer darkness.
Fear will continue in the heart but as awe and reverence, since such a person has attained perfect love.
The Tent of Meeting in the Old Testament represented God's dwelling with His people. The tents of the people surrounded God's Tent, but at some distance, because of the awe of that place where God's glory used to descend over the Ark of Covenant where God spoke to Moses.
And although Moses the Prophet had such familiarity with God that he dared to say to Him, "Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people" (Ex 32: 12), nevertheless when he came to the mountain to receive the commandments from God, he said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling." (Heb 12: 21) It was the awe of God the most awesome of all gods!
• Love casts out fear, or rather terror, and it continues in the form of awe, reverence, and respect.
We address God in the Lord's Prayer as our Father, but we kneel down and worship before Him, because we do not speak to an ordinary father but to "Our Father in heaven". Awe in prayer then is a kind of fear implying reverence and respect.
And what is glorification but a kind of fear of God and respect to Him!
Did the angels in the Revelation not say, "Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You …" (Rev 15: 4)
With the same concept St. John the Evangelist saw an angel flying in heaven and having the everlasting gospel, saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him." (Rev14: 7)
Here we notice that fear of God is connected with His glorification, and we ought to do both whenever we recall God's greatness and sublime glory.
God requires us to do this so as not to forget His glory and awe and sin against Him. Therefore, when He appeared to Moses in the bush He said to him, "Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." (Ex 3: 5) It is an example of the fear of God.
• Another example is the commandment not to use God's name in vain (Ex 20: 7), with a punishment set for breaking this commandment.
This is one of the Ten Commandments, and God said immediately after that, "For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain." We find the same commandment in the New Testament, but extending not only to the Lord's name but also to whatever belongs to Him: "Do not swear at all: neither by heaven for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great king." (Mt 5: 34, 35)
Such is the awe of God and whatever is related to Him!
A person who has the fear of God in his heart will also revere, respect, and obey Him and will keep His commandments. He will respect whatever is related to Him, whether His holy places, His Holy Scripture, the ministers of His altar, His saints and angels, and His holy name which we are required not to use in vain but to respect and glorify it, and even bowing down when uttering the holy name.
Such is the fear which should be in whoever loves God, by which a person cannot break even one of His commandments, fearing His punishment.
By love also one cannot break God's commandments, because one loves them and finds his pleasure in them. On the contrary, one who breaks the commandments is clearly far from the fear and love of God.
Furthermore, whoever speaks about love while breaking the commandment is speaking falsehood!
For how one can speak about love which is the end of the spiritual way, while he has not yet attained fear which is the beginning of the way. True are the beautiful words of the holy inspiration: "If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?" (Jer 12: 5)
If you are still struggling with sin, once falling and once rising, how could you put yourself equal to those who did whatever they had been required to do and yet said,
"We are unprofitable servants." (Lk 17: 10) Or can you compare yourself with saints like Anthony or others who had revelations and visions?!
Therefore, let us speak only about our own level and not assume ranks we have not yet attained, or will not attain.
I speak to people of my type. We struggle together and have not yet attained. We are still in the stage of struggling. As for that perfect love which casts out fear, it is perhaps the course of the whole life. Every day we try to go a step further on its way.
I think that perfect love will only be attained in the life to come.
In that life there will be no sin, and therefore no fear. But in our present world where sin prevails, there should be fear as well. As the Scripture says, "Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good … But if you do evil, be afraid." (Rom 13: 4, 5) And if this is said about the limited authority, who has limited evaluation of evil, what can be said about God who is unlimited in goodness and holiness?!
•Beware wrong understanding of the verses on God's kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and mercy.
This particular point needs to be tackled in detail next weak, God willing.