Why teach fear when God is love?

Are we to revert to fear when, even in the face of death, Jesus taught love?

by Francis Brown

The article, Teaching children to fear God (Holy Mousepad, OLC #113), leads me to comment – and not focusing only on those of a young age – that we are all children when it comes to learning, or should I write unlearning, anything about God.

When we were of a young age we were subject to whatever seemed appropriate. As adults we may need to unlearn much of what was instilled by well intentioned parents, child care personnel, teachers, law makers, priests and bishops. What is labeled appropriate is not always the right thing. Resorting to appropriateness in any situation is a cop out where love is what is needed.

It is true that Christian theology in the past stressed that we all have something to fear. Nowadays, with better understanding of Sacred Scripture, theologians seem less inclined to take a strong stand on that. On superficial reading of some passages of Sacred Scripture it would seem logical to promote a fear of God. While not digressing into how we can read non-superficially, I’d like to say that Sacred Scripture should be read as a whole, especially in a meditative or even in a mystic mode, along with whatever study is available.

Does God turn “a blind eye to our misdemeanors”? Do we have to accept the “reactionary and conservative groups in the Church that are promoting the emphasis on sin”? Are our feelings of sinfulness natural? Does God feel as we do about anything, in this case about sin? Most of our difficulties in our relationship with God come from painting God in human image and likeness.

The instruction incorporated into the Post a Prayer page at the Australian Daily Prayer Online on how to beat the love of Jesus into your child is said to raise the question of how to regulate precisely how the fear of God is to be taught.

My query is about who is to do the regulating. Is it to be the Church, the State or parents?

It is suggested that leaving the regulating to the parents would be a recipe for child abuse. That is based presumably on a long history of child abuse among humans.

If the Church is to do the regulating, how is it to do so without full consultation with parents? Does the Church consult with parents or other laity? Is the Church to do what it usually does, dictate from above? Is it to base regulation on flawed concepts of the fear of God or on love for which it has a mandate?

If we are to have the State as regulator, politicians are vote sensitive and will listen to the concerted voice of parents. In the State there seems to be at least a protection against child abuse by its penalties for such and, parents can have -- in a Free State -- a voice about penalties for all misbehavour.

Fear of penalties as consequence of behaviour is not the same as fear of God. Children -- even us grown up ones -- need to be taught responsibility for their – our --  actions. Good actions have their benefits and bad actions have their penalties in this world. Full Stop!

Being afraid of God does not have us love God. It does not have us love anyone or anything. We are created as an extension of Love, which is the Essence of God. Fear is a concept we have introduced arising from what has been called “original sin”, whatever that is. It certainly was not that God introduced fear to cause us to behave or achieve better. God introduced only Love. This is where the whole issue revolves. Is God love or fear? Why teach fear when God is love?

On the biblical use of fear of God I refer readers to Geerhardus Vos: Biblical Theology, Old and New Testament (Banner of Truth Trust), 1975. This author indicates that Abraham continued the faith-trust of Shemitic consciousness which was based on fear and awe in his religion but modified it to something that had in it more of reverence than of dread.

Jesus, of course, went further. Jesus taught love and, even in the face of death, did not renege on love. Are we to revert to fear as our mode of dealing with our children of any age?

Francis Brown, of Kingsgrove, is a parent and grandparent



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