how can fear and love coexist in one god?

Vic Shayne
8 min readFeb 22, 2023

Vic Shayne
author
The Self is a Belief: The idea that causes suffering

Human beings have long created gods in their own image — imperfect and full of human traits. This is obvious to all who are free to see it, and it is denied by those who have invested their sense of worth in a strong belief. While Eastern religions like Hinduism have recognized the value of gods as aspects of ourselves (though this isn’t necessarily the way all Hindus relate to their gods), Western religions present a personal and perfect God fraught with the same conflict as the individuals who created and perpetuate it. This particular God is to be both feared and loved according to its mood and the mood of the follower.

Fearing and loving God are two sides of the same tarnished coin — a coin forged out of ideas emanating from minds that simultaneously hold all the opposites and compliments of emotions and feelings. The ideal God of western religions has been said to be a compassionate, wise, and omnipotent being that loves his children. The Baptist Faith and Message (Article II.A.) reported that Southern Baptists believe God is “all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise.” The Catholic World quoted philosopher Rémi Brague whose summation forms the basis for the Christian confession of the Trinity found in the New Testament: “God is love.” (1 John 4:16). One may wonder if this is the same God that inspired Catholics and the clergy, from the lowliest priest to the pope, to burn Jews and Muslims at the stake during the Inquisition.

Despite claims that God is loving and beneficent, man cannot help imbuing him with the most negative and destructive traits as well — anger, spite, pettiness, and jealously. In Exodus 20:5 of the Old Testament God said, “…I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” We can add vindictive to our list.

fearing God is holy
Western religion has long taught that fearing God is the right thing to do; and so is loving God.

In the Old Testament, Isaiah 11:1–3, the prophet says, “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”

In Islam, the prophet Mohammed said, “Fear God wherever you are. Follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will blot it out. And deal with people in a good manner.”

The Bahá’í Faith teaches its followers to “fear God” or have the “fear of God” more than a dozen times in the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book). The fear of God is said to be “the essence of wisdom,” “the fountain-head of all goodly deeds and virtues,” “the weapon that can render him victorious” and “the primary instrument whereby he can achieve his purpose.”

excusing the fear
Pope Francis explained that “the fear of the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t mean being afraid of God, since we know that God is our Father that always loves and forgives us,…[It] is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace.” Fear, then, is joyful. Since when?

And the pope said, “Let us pray that the fear of God, together with the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, will renew us in faith and constantly remind us that in God alone do we find our ultimate happiness, freedom and fulfillment.” Fear is a gift as well, because apparently being fearful leads to happiness and freedom.

The Catholic Encyclopedia quotes philosopher Jacques Forget as saying that the fear of God is a gift that “fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him.” In an April 2006 article published in Inside the Vatican magazine, John Mallon wrote that the “fear” in “fear of the Lord” is often misinterpreted as “servile fear” (the fear of getting in trouble) when it should be understood as “filial fear” (the fear of offending someone whom one loves).

who are they trying to fool?
Reasons for fearing God include shallow, senseless, and sophomoric arguments — especially because we are all familiar with what fear actually is. Who doesn’t have fear, and what makes it a good thing other than to keep you far from the edge of a cliff? Should we walk around in fear of our parents, teachers, spouses, lovers, children, and religious leaders? Will this breed love or something else?

Hint: Love NEVER comes from fear.

oh, god, make it stop!!
Proverbs 1:7 of the New Testament teaches, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The verse ends the thought that “fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This is a definitive, absolutist statement fortified by another absolutist statement against those few who think freely and untainted by belief. Religion does not welcome free thinkers, yet free thinking is the source of wisdom. And instruction is always secondhand information, but religion requires its devotees not to question it and to accept it as real and valuable. Nevertheless, wisdom does not come from secondhand information or belief; it comes from a clear mind that is free of the egoic self that uses religious teachings to sate its own sense of insecurity.

more absurd and bad arguments
Freelance writer Blair Parke, BibleStudyTools.com, proffered a typical explanation of what “fear of God” suggests. She wrote that the fear of God “is a two-fold understanding of fear: One being fear of God in regards to His love and power — that He can make any dream become a reality and has unlimited peace and security to freely give. The second form of this type of fear is our fear of God’s wrath and disappointment when we turn against Him or refuse to serve Him and others. When one realizes the first type of fear has gripped his/her heart, the hope is that the person will reject the comforts of the fear and run to the Father, seeking His wisdom to combat whatever triggered the fear, as stated in Proverbs 9:10: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’ This will then lead to the other type of fear, fear of God, which centers on the wisdom of God and understanding of His plan for us.”

A one-word response to the above is: “Oh, my God!” Okay, that’s three words, but maybe you get the point. I am pretty sure that either the religious people who said these things about fear do not know what fear really means or they are idiots. Too harsh? So is their God and his sociopathic brand of love and compassion.

Perhaps twisted arguments go unnoticed by billions of religious followers who will not face reality, but fear and love do not — cannot — coexist, except in a mind filled with conflicting ideas and thoughts. Love suggests complete openness, acceptance, compassion, and humility; while fear suggests constriction, restriction, suppression, control, dominance, and submission. On a more human level, a person who loves his father because he is so fearful that he will otherwise be beaten to a pulp is a traumatized person who’s not thinking clearly.

True love has no opposite, because it is fundamental and is that which yet exists when all else is stripped away; fear is ephemeral and conditional. It is an artifact of insecurity. Human love, coming from the egoic self, is conditional, as is the love of the god that is described by the major religious experts.

A god who evokes and demands fear is proof that he is a reflection of man’s limited scope of thinking. Fear of God is a recipe for control and enforcing blind obedience in the name of an invisible being capable of murdering and harming its devotees as well as their enemies. Fear of God drowns out awareness, compassion, love, acceptance, and openness. An open heart cannot fear and love all at once.

the self of the ego is conflicted and so is its god
The egoic self is forever in a state of conflict, suppressing what it does not deem acceptable while promoting and focusing on what it deems noble. Freud discovered this a century ago with his idea of the Id and the super ego. The individual suppresses the inclinations of the Id in favor of putting on a socially acceptable face for the world to see, yet both exist within each person. And Jung presented a similar, but deeper idea when he revitalized the archetypes of the Greek philosophers to show that all manner of feelings, character types, and thoughts are within each of us. Within our being is the collective unconscious that contains all of what may be called good and bad.

Fearing God, then, is the fear of that which exists within you; and this makes God a very human invention. To feel sane, people find it necessary to accept the good in themselves while rejecting the bad, but they somehow deny that they’ve created a god that wrestles with the same conflict. Now people have to not only make lame excuses for their own misbehavior but also for those of their god.

So what about this age-old teaching that claims the religious should fear God? Is it a worthy teaching that transcends the limitations of the human mind, or is it simply a reflection of the conflicted egoic self that perpetuates suffering? The answer seems clear and it is no surprise that so many wars have been, and continue to be, fought in the name of “the one true God.”

and more importantly…
If you need proof that God is an invention of man, look no further than his very human emotions. Human beings were unable to create something that is greater than their own state of consciousness.

At this point it is quite clear, perhaps at least to a few, that religion is about something other than finding truth. It is about accepting someone else’s — some institution’s — version of the truth and it requires belief and trusting acceptance. It’s amazing that, despite all of the confused and contradictory teachings that religion has been purveyed over the millennia, somehow a few individuals have anyway found a way to get past the baseless ideas of human beings to uncover the bedrock of consciousness. Hats off to them. Still, one has to wonder: Why accept and entertain religion’s beliefs if, in the end, eventually, a spiritual seeker finds it necessary to discard them all to uncover what is beneath them? The truth is only to be found beyond thought, belief, dogma, and religious ideas.

As usual, it all boils down to what a spiritual seeker wants. If she wants to know who she is at all costs, then religion provides little help, because it is composed of other people’s ideas of what she is. But if all she wants is to feel secure in a world that is anything but secure, then even religion’s illogical, outrageous, and conflictual teachings may sate her desire.

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Vic Shayne

NY Times bestselling author writing about reality beyond thought, philosophy, psychology, and the self to alleviate suffering; vicshayne.com