VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Today’s Viewpoints question is a highly theological one, but it got my writers talking. And hopefully you, dear readers, will chime in with a few thoughts, too.

VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

Fran Salone-Pelletier

Fran Salone-Pelletier

My response to that question reflects my experience with a “human higher power”—my father. Daddy was an immigrant from Italy and an older parent. I was the first of four children, born when my father was 44 years old in the days when parenting at that age was unusual. He reflected his Victorian-era birthing time and was a strict disciplinarian. We never asked why, we only responded to his demands. This did not mean he was cruel or abusive. It just underscored a limited relationship based on fear of angering him or disappointing him or annoying him. Fear obliterated deep love.

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church at a time when that kind of fear translated into my understanding of God as a paternal taskmaster who counted all the good deeds but also kept strict score of errors of any sort. Walking on spiritual eggs made a faith journey nearly impossible.

As I grew in wisdom, various experiences caused me to examine my consciousness of love and fear as opposites. I could not love a God I feared. I could not continue to fear a God I wished to love.

So, I took a chance. I decided to believe I could never do anything to make God love me more; nor could I do anything to make God love me less.

The result has been astoundingly freeing. I both love and trust God. Fear has been banished. In its place, there is awesome love, love that impels me into an ever-deepening relationship both with God and all creation.

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Steve Lee

Steve Lee

From a Buddhist perspective, this question is irrelevant. In fact, the questions about the very existence of a higher power are irrelevant. The essence of the Buddhist project is threefold: individual and societal awakening to the true nature of existence, realizing the true nature of existence in everyday life and becoming liberated from the debilitating effects of a false understanding of the true nature of existence. The true nature of existence is summarized in the three Buddhist principles of annica, dukha, and annata: life is impermanent; life includes those things that we typically avoid or fear—such as old age, sickness and death—and there is no permanent, abiding self.

All of the many and varied Buddhist practices are aimed at awakening, realization and liberation. Spending time debating the existence of a higher power or the nature of a relationship to a higher power becomes a diversion from the path of awakening, work that is mostly individual and internal. Nyanaponika Thera, writing in “In Buddhism and the God-Idea”, quotes a passage of scripture that gets at the diversionary quality of questions about a higher power:

“Not far from here do you need to look!
Highest existence — what can it avail?
Here in this present aggregate,
In your own body overcome the world!”

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Victoria Rouch

Victoria Rouch

My mother always told me her image of God kept her from getting close to him. She said she always imagined him as having a long white beard and angry, flashing eyes. I don’t know a lot about her childhood other than her father was less than attentive. Perhaps that is why her image of God the Father was less than welcoming.

My image of a higher power doesn’t engender fear. Witches don’t see god or the gods as most in the mainstream religions do. Our higher power is one that allows us to make mistakes. Any punishment we receive is via karma or through our own doing. We believe what you do will be visited upon you three-fold, not by some faceless entity but through Universal Law. If you send out negative energy, it comes back to you with increased force. It’s like throwing a boomerang. Good or bad, you always get released energy coming back to you.

And because Pagans in general believe in both male and female deities, we also have a balanced perspective. The masculine strength of the father figure is balanced by the nurturing softness of the mother. It’s hard to fear something that guides and comforts you. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to Paganism in the first place. There is male and female energy in everything, a yin and a yang. But religion in general has exempted itself from that duality and only seems to recognize the male, in most cases. Mary was instrumental in bringing forth Jesus, but once her job was done she was relegated to a minor supporting role. That’s rather sad, because that female energy makes the Divine far less intimidating, and much more approachable to me and others who are attracted to both the Mother and Father aspect.

I guess my short answer is that the question doesn’t apply to me. I don’t fear consequences from a Higher Power. I have more fear of my own weaknesses. And any negative consequences I’ve ever suffered came not through punishment from above, but through my own doing.

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Gabrielle Barone, guest contributor

“The fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to turn from evil is understanding.” Job 28:28.

There are a lot of references to fear of God in the Old and New Testaments. But what does the word fear really mean? In the Old Testament, there are at least four different Hebrew words for fear. Yirah and pachad have to do with fear, terror and dread, whereas yare and kabad are reverence, honor and glorification. The New Testament Greek has four words for fear: timao and eulabeia are honor, veneration and value; phobeo is shocking and paralytic ; and deilia, which is timidity and cowardice. In our relationship with the Divine all of these aspects of fear come into play at one time or another. As an evangelical Christian, I know the fear of God is linked to the revelation of his sovereignty. He is a God who is big and holy and frightening and gentle and tender and MINE; a God who frightens me into his strong and powerful arms and whispers three terrifying words, “I love you.” As C.S. Lewis said “Is God good? Yes. But He is not safe.” The presence of the Divine has always brought fear to the heart of sinful man, but the fear that leads to wisdom is acknowledging we can’t go it alone. We need a savior.

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Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

One of the Hindu scriptures answers this question with vivid imagery. In “The Bhagavad Gita,” Prince Arjuna has an inner vision of Lord Krishna’s “terrifying and marvelous cosmic form.” (BG 11:20)

At first, Arjuna falls “in adoration before the Lord” as Creator: “Clothed in mantles of light and garlands of blossoming heavens – the infinite, wondrous and resplendent One – facing everywhere simultaneously,” enhanced with “an indescribable fragrance.” (BG 11:11, 14).

Next, Arjuna prostrates in awe when he meets the Sustainer, whose “body is the entire cosmos… the treasure house of the universe, the refuge of all creatures, the eternal guardian of timeless wisdom.” (BG 11:16, 18).

Then Arjuna sees the Divine as the Destroyer: “When I look into your terrible jaws with fearful tusks, I see the fires of the end of time… Now I understand that all creatures, like moths to a flame, are rushing headlong into your gaping jaws of death.” (BG 11:25, 29).

Fearful, Arjuna begins “trembling uncontrollably” and pleads: “I am terrified by your cosmic form. O God of gods… mercifully show your more familiar form to me.” (BG 11:35, 45).

For Arjuna to love Krishna again, he has to reduce the Divine within to a human form.

I believe, like Arjuna, we are in turn in adoration before the Divine, or prostrated in awe, or pleading in fear. At any time in our lives, ours is the power to choose which aspect of the Divine within we want to activate.

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Andy Lee

Andy Lee

I don’t think anyone can come to know God through fear. Only loves draws us to him, yet he is holy. He is perfect love. Just as we can’t survive in the presence of pure oxygen, we can’t survive in the presence of pure love. But he made a way.

The God I respect and love is the God who died for me. He made a way for me to stand in his perfect presence one day. Until then, his Holy Spirit is my teacher, purifier and friend. His love changes me.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18, 19).

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One response to “VIEWPOINTS: Does the fear of a higher power interfere with loving that higher power?

  1. Pingback: God-Links « Favorite Films of Marcus Pullman

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