The Fear of God (15)- Objections & Reply
Pope Shenouda III | 6 December 2009
So many people flee from the words "Fear of God", seeing that such words are not suitable for the covenant of grace which we live. On what bases do they build their claim?+
1. They say: why should I fear God while He accepted Augustine who had been ungodly for a long time? God also accepted Moses the Black who was cruel and a murderer, and accepted Mary the Copt who was in deep filthiness and corruption. He likewise accepted Mary Magdalene who had seven demons (Mk 16: 9), and the adulterous woman who met Him in the Pharisee's house (Lk 7: 37)
It is a blessing, my son, that you know all these examples. But let us discuss them: do you have such true repentance like those saints? Do you have the kind of repentance of Augustine and Moses the Black who never returned to sin again but continued in spiritual growth and became guides to many people for generations after them? Do you have the contrite heart of that adulterous woman who humiliated herself very much and poured her tears before all people?
Do you know how God led Mary the Copt through fear, when His hand shut the doors of the church against her and nailed her to the ground that she might not reach the holy icon? Do you know that she struggled for seventeen years after her repentance, persisting firmly against the continued fearful wars of the devils? Do you have such love as the Magdalene Saint had, such great and amazing love that could keep away fear from her?
Be like those in their repentance and love, and you will not fear. Think of how they attained and how much time did they take to reach such levels. Do not put yourself in the same level of such saints. There is a big difference between you and them, between your beginning and their end!
However put them before you to give yourself hope, and try with all your power to follow their way with the same seriousness and true intent, and with the same fear with which they started. Only then you will not be afraid.
2. I hear you saying: 'Why should we fear while God is a Father having compassion upon us?
Yes, He is a Father with all the significance that the word bears. The Psalmist said about Him, "He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities ... As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Ps 103: 10, 12)
It is good, my son, that you used this Psalm and these verses in particular, but let us read them together to see what do they mean: The Psalmist says, "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him."+
He did not say that God pities those who continue in their sins or in breaking His commandments, but those who fear Him (Ps 103: 13). And about His mercy and forgiveness the Psalmist says, "For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him." (Ps 103: 11)
I see that you have quoted the verses that suit your mind and ignored the rest! You quoted the verses (10 & 12) of (Ps 103) and left the verses (11 & 13). You ought to have quoted the whole Psalm to understand the full meaning with respect to God's dealing with us. It is true that God is Merciful, Compassionate, and Longsuffering, but in order that we may repent. Then He will pity those who fear Him and will not deal with them according to their sins. Because of the fear of God they repented, and through repentance their sins were blotted out, so He did not punish them for iniquities which He had already forgiven, and did not deal with them according to sins they had already repented for.
God deals with you as a Father, but you ought to deal with Him as a son. He is truly a Father, but He has no partiality. See what St. Peter the Apostle says in this context: "If you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear." (1 Pet 1: 17)
He is a Father with all the significance that the word bears, but He is a Holy Father who is not pleased with sin. He also is a Just Father who does not take the side of His children. Therefore, since He will judge us according to our works without partiality, we ought to fear making Him angry lest we lose His love.
God is our Father, and as a Father He blames His children for their disobedience.+
The prophecy of Isaiah the Prophet starts with the words, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: 'I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.'" (Isa 1: 2) And in the Book of Malachi (1: 6), the Lord says, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?"
Can we say then that disregarding God's honor and reverence is an evidence of lack of fear of God in the heart, which is against the teaching of the Scripture? If you are a son of God, where is His honor as a Father?+
3. Some would say: why should we fear God while He is not merely a Father, but His fatherhood is mixed with kindness and compassion?
I would say, 'Is it because God is kind that we misuse His kindness and disregard His honor and reverence, forgetting His majesty and fatherhood? And if we forget His reverence because of love, shall it be true love? And since God is the Father, does He not have the right as a Father to chastise us, and we fear His chastising?
The Apostle says, "For whom the Lord loves He chastens … If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." (Heb 12: 6- 8) Therefore we should not expect only pity from a father, but also chastening, and be sure that chastening is useful for us. It implants within us the feelings of fear by which we obey God and gain life.
St. Paul the Apostle further says, "We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness." (Heb 12: 9, 10) The Apostle knew that fear is not pleasant to many, nor chastening, so he concludes saying, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12: 11)
God's fatherhood to us then is not for mere coddling. +
It is rather more for correcting, chastening and educating so that our life may be reformed and we live. Therefore our love as children ought to mix with fear, as the Apostle says about our natural fathers that we pay them respect and they chasten us. Here fear means reverence and obedience, not terror. We should fear lest we sin.
4. Some would say, 'Why should we fear God, while He is gentle and merciful?+
For the Apostle says, "But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us …" (Tit 3: 4, 5)
We would say the talk about God's kindness is half the fact, for the Apostle himself says also:
"Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God …"+
Then he continues, "On those who fell, severity; but toward you goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." (Rom 11: 22)+
5. Those who object say: 'but God also is longsuffering and merciful.
We reply that as children and believers, we should not use God's longsuffering to go far in our sins, as if we take of God's mercy a cover to hide our remissness, for the Apostle rebukes those who misuse God's longsuffering, saying, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds." (Rom 2: 4- 6)
God's kindness then is not a room for remissness, nor His longsuffering means that He is pleased with sin or permitting it without punishment! Far be it from God! This does not conform to God's unlimited goodness and justice.+
Nay! But God does not want to catch you in your sin lest you perish. He gives you a chance to repent. So, you have to fear that time may come when the cup of wrath becomes full and you miss the chance given you. Then you will be subject to God's fearful judgment!
God suffered Pharaoh long in the days of Moses, but did He not punish him? He also suffered the Amorites long because their iniquity was not yet complete (Gen 15: 16), but when it became complete He delivered them into the hands of Moses the Prophet.+
6. I wonder at someone who objects and quotes the words of St. Augustine: 'love, and then do whatever you want'!
It is unreasonable of course to understand these words of the saint to mean that we do whatever sin and remissness we want! What is meant by them is to do whatever you want within God's love, in other words, not to be literal in your love.
7. Some object saying that fear suits the Old Testament, while we are in the New Covenant of grace and love!
We have already given various verses on Fear in the New Testament and there is no need to repeat them.
Now let me, dear reader, conclude our talk about "Fear of God" and start another topic, God willing.