The Fear of God: One Learner’s New BFF
In the Wilmette Institute’s May 2015 eNewsletter, we shared with you Julia Sears-Hartley’s new understanding of the concept of the fear of God that she had come to through her study in the course on Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 2015. This month we continue the discussion with another exploration of the topic by Shamsi Monajem, a first-time Wilmette Institute learner from Lilburn, Georgia, USA. Shamsi has just completed the course on Bahá’u’lláh’s Early Mystic Writings 2015. Anyone who grew up in a Christian church and was directly or indirectly influenced by the sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” preached by the Colonial-era theologian Johnathan Edwards in 1741, will be particularly interested in the insights of a Wilmette Institute learners about the fear of God.
“Fear of God is my new favorite topic, as I feel getting a true understanding of the fear of God is comforting and freeing. The discomfort with the fear of God I think stems from a concept that God is wrathful and will strike you down, so you must fear him. My understanding is quite different. Fear of God is, rather, a protection. When you fear God, it is similar to the social fears many people experience. We are afraid that our friends will not like our new dress, that our colleagues will think poorly of us if we do not know something, or that our neighbors will judge us by the car we drive. This is similar to fear of God in that we fear God will be disappointed in us, and we fear God’s displeasure when we know we are doing something wrong. If we understand that God’s decree is the measure by which we should live our lives, and we put this into play in our daily thoughts and actions, we are freed from all the other fears that may ambush us. So fearing God causes us to recognize his decree is the measure of success and righteous living, not the judgment of our friends, neighbors, and associates. Rather than focusing on our clothes, knowledge, or car as a measure of our worth, we look at the purity of our thoughts and actions and the faithful observance of God’s laws.
“So in The Four Valleys, when, in the Second Valley (53–54), Bahá’u’lláh quotes the Qur’án (2.282), ‘Fear God, and God will instruct thee,’ I see this as saying fear of God assists you in that, when you fear God, His instruction is what matters to you.
“Again, in The Fourth Valleys (58): ‘And if he feareth not God, God will make him to fear all things; whereas all things fear him who feareth God.’ This tells me that if you do not fear God and do not live your life so as to please Him, you become prey to all the other fears of the world. So, rather that fear of backbiting, you have fear of not looking cool to your friends. Rather than fear of unkindness to your fellow man, you have fear of vulnerability. You want a gun to keep you safe rather than knowing that “The essence of true safety is to observe silence, to look at the end of things and to renounce the world” (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh , Asl-i-Kullu’l-Khayr [Words of Wisdom] 156).
“If you are looking to the world to provide safety, validation, and a standard for your success, you will ‘fear all things.’ If, however, you rely on God’s protection, affirmations, and judgment, you can live by his teachings and fear nothing at all but Him.
“In The Seven Valleys (11) you see more references to fear: In the Valley of Knowledge, Bahá’u’lláh instructs us to “come out of doubt into certitude, and turn from the darkness of illusion to the guiding light of the fear of God.” Because your fear of displeasing God is greater that your fear of any earthly punishment or discomfort, you are guided to follow God’s law. Fear is thus a guiding light out of the darkness of illusion. (I think one illusion is the fear of all things in this world—sickness, poverty, low status, opinions of others, and so on.)
“In Gleanings (128: 275), Bahá’u’lláh writes: “Cleanse from your hearts the love of worldly things, from your tongues every remembrance except His remembrance, from your entire being whatsoever may deter you from beholding His face, or may tempt you to follow the promptings of your evil and corrupt inclinations. Let God be your fear, O people, and be ye of them that tread the path of righteousness.”
“This phrase—“Let God be your fear”—I find particularly comforting. If we allow God to be our fear, we can break free from all the other fears in this world and fear nothing but God. This is my limited understanding of fear of God. I am certain others will have insights that I would love to read.”