Fear, God, childhood, motherhood, etc.

The comments by Shellie & Christy on my last post have got me thinking some deep thoughts about the nature of God, fear itself, my childhood, and how all of that combined affects both my relationship with and understanding of God, and informs my parenting.

To sum up my thoughts regarding fear and God, I think it unbiblical to proclaim:  “Be afraid.”  However, anyone who says, “Have fear?  Turn to God” can have their words supported biblically.  Anyone who says, “Be prepared.  Be alert” may be speaking with biblical support, but it gets a little cloudy, depending on what preparedness or alertness looks like, and from what motivation it stems.

Lemme ‘splain where I’m coming from.  (This gets long…)

Strangely enough (or maybe not so strange), this ties into my thought lately on parenting.

Much of my time these last four weeks has been spent on the couch, nursing my newborn.  Often, I have found myself wishing that all four of my non-infant children were 100% responsive and promptly obedient to the orders and requests I have given as I sit, semi-immobilized by the very act of nursing.* They’re not.  I haven’t kept stats, but each of them properly responds maybe 10-80% of the time, responsiveness increasing with age, but say, averaging in the 30-40% range.  In other words, most of the time, when I pipe up with a request or some direction from the couch, most of the time, it’s soundly ignored.

Especially with my Dad’s visit, I have reflected on obedience in my own childhood.  I am the second of four siblings, and we obeyed.  I mean, it wasn’t even a question.  We didn’t even consider following our own leanings instead of what was being told us to do.  We unequivocably followed orders, and followed them to a T, and wouldn’t even begin to think about how we could maybe bend them a bit for our own ease with rationalization or loophole-finding.  It just didn’t happen.  We obeyed.

However, this was accomplished by a reign of terror.  The reason we obeyed was because we were all extremely afraid of our father, and with good reason.  He has admitted that, had he it all to do over again, he would have done things much differently…  and, he is largely a product of his own upbringing, where I think he had it even worse that we sibs did.  But, in short, he was abusive.  Truly abusive, and we lived in fear.  True fear for one’s safety brought us to swift and complete obedience.

I have decided, and continue to decide, that while it would be highly preferable for my kids to exhibit consistent obedience to my every word, if the only way to produce that effect is to bring them to the abject terror that I experienced as a child, it’s just not worth it.  I’d rather have that 30% obedience with my children not being fearful of my touch or my word.

Not that I prefer 30% obedience, but I hope you understand what I’m saying.

I have spoken with pleaded with my children many times, and blogged about my angst over the fact that I would so, so, so, so, so rather have my children choose the right thing from their hearts, instead of from the negative motivation of me wielding the spanking spoon, or the power to withhold computer time, or from their desire to avoid some other of the multitudinous routes of discipline I’ve employed.  I’d so rather that my dear children recognize my God-given authority — not as something to fear, but as something to respect — and realize that the decisions I make and the directions I give are for their own benefit, for the collective benefit of our family and others, and for their future…  I’d rather that their decisions about how to treat each other and myself rose from love and kindness, and a desire to defer generously to those around them.

But, alas, such Godly maturity is not in them yet, though I am encouraged by rare glimpses into a possibly brighter future.  In the meantime, I cling to Galatians 6:9 “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

I think perhaps my opinion that God doesn’t want us to fear Him (like terror-fear, not respect-fear) is based on my own life experience, both as a fearful child, then as a mother who longs for obedience, yet doesn’t want her children to tremble at her sight.  I want their hearts;  I don’t want their fear-based robotic obedience.  I want them to understand my love for them and respond to that with obedience;  not obey just to avoid discipline.

I rather think God our Father must be similar.

As children, did my sibs and I obey our Dad?  Yes.  But, did he have our hearts?  No.  Moreover, our childhood interactions with our father has dramatically affected us as adults, and 95% of that effect is negative.  In the wake of our childhood, all of us (to one degree or another) have had to receive ministry; go through counseling; get psychiatric care; go on medication; talk endlessly with our spouses; pray endlessly to the true Father; scour the Scriptures for a true view of fatherhood, Fatherhood, and Godhood; weep; process through forgiveness, and then process again and again and again; attempt to re-establish good relationship with the somewhat-changed version of our father, here in our adult years; endlessly evaluate our current attitudes, perspectives, and behavior seeking to eradicate the harmful effects of a damaged childhood, and not have that play out in our own parenting and relationships… etc.  And etc.  And etc.

I just can’t see God the Father having a goal of having such a similar, destructive fear over our hearts.  I have seen the fruit of that fear, and it ain’t pretty.  It isn’t “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control.”  The fruit of such fear isn’t true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous or praiseworthy.

God is all-powerful;  He could smite us.  He is pure justice;  He could condemn us.  He is intolerant of sin; He could withhold forgiveness.

Yet, I don’t see that being His heart to do so.  At the core of who God is, is John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Now, there are some whom God will certainly smite, and those whom He will condemn, and those whom He won’t forgive — namely, those who reject Him and His ways and His plan of salvation and His forgiveness.  I’m not advocating for Unitarianism here.  I believe in a final judgment where God will separate His own from those who haven’t chosen Him.  But, I think Scripture is clear that His desire is to save, not to condemn.

Likewise, though there is a time to fear God, I don’t think His own children should fear Him.  I think we should respect Him, honor Him, obey Him, love Him, praise Him, worship Him, defer to Him, learn from Him, listen to Him, follow in His steps, seek to be transformed by Him, and a host of other things.  But, as I understand both the nature of God and Scripture, I don’t see that we are to fear him.

Using my handy Vine’s Expository Dictionary (I have one with only New Testament words from the Greek), a distinction is certainly made between kinds of fear.  “Phobos” means fear, dread, terror and/or the things which cause such inward reaction.  A FEW times in the New Testament, (and never in the four Gospels), phobos is used in the sense of “the fear of God” — like in Philippians 2:12 and 1 Peter 1:17.  However, much more often, it is used in entirely different senses:

In fact, several times, we are told to have aphobos (the opposite of phobos) before God and others.  We are to serve Him without fearPaul told the Corinthians to put Timothy at ease so that he could serve without phobos/fearPhilippians 1:14 speaks of preaching without fear/phobos.

The Greek word eulabeia, which is sometimes translated as “fear,” signifies caution and reverence.  Vine’s suggests that the best translation for this word is, in fact, reverence.  Hebrews 5:7 says that THIS is the sort of “fear” that Jesus had for His Father.  Hebrews 12:17 says that we are to worship God with eulabeia.  The fear and warning spoken of in Hebrews 11:7 are of the eulabeia variety.

After having Biblegateway, Vine’s, and my Bible cracked open, looking into fear for the last hour+, while fear can be used when speaking of respect for God, it very much appears to me that, most often, we are told NOT be be phobos/fearful of God, nor of man.  It does not appear to me that God wants His children to be fearful.

Regarding the admonition by believers for other believers to be prepared and alert… well, I could do another word study on that, and perhaps I might (though not here).  But, I have often observed that such warnings go beyond a simple call to readiness, and instead, act as a prompting for fear.  And, as illustrated above, I don’t believe that God is calling His children to be fearful of Him, of other believers, and even of nonbelievers or events.

I don’t believe that God is asking any of His children to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that reality isn’t.  But, I am very grateful for the instruction I, long ago, received from my pastor, Dennis Bourns, about fear.  He teaches that when our sights are firmly set on the thing that induces fear, when our thoughts dwell on the fearful, when our energies are spent investigating the fearful, when we mentally play and replay fearful events either real or hypothetical, then the FEAR is what grows.  Instead, if our intentions are to know God more thoroughly and more intimately, and we spend our efforts leaving those burdens at His feet over and over again, and we gaze more steadily into His eyes, and seek His will more continually, then our perspectives change.  It’s not necessarily that the fearful thing disappears;  though sometimes it does, instead what more often happens is that, just like the hymn, when we turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full into His wonderful face, the things of earth become strangely dim in the light of His glory.  In other words, our faith in Him increases.  Our hope in Him increases.  Our confidence in His power increases.  Our own sense of hopelessness, powerlessness and despondence decreases.

I will certainly admit that my history has informed my understanding of the fear of God.  And, I realize that it is, somewhat, open for interpretation as to what, exactly, that holy fear is, especially when phobos is used, sometimes, in reference of the fear of God that we, even as believers, should have.  But, still, I stand on my understanding that God simply doesn’t want His children to be fearful of Him… and I will resist any teaching or admonishment that will tell me that I MUST fear God my Father in a … terror-like way.

Now, in general, I will also heartily admit that, as a people, we Americans aren’t fearful enough.  Conversely, we tend to be overly confident, prideful, quick to make assumptions, glib, and hedonistic.  In general, our problem is not that we are too fearful.  However, I have read, heard, observed an increase — especially as Obama’s rise to the Presidency comes upon us — that we as a Christian people in America should absolutely FEAR the future under Obama, and what he might do to the Constitution, to our rights as Christians, to the unborn, to the Supreme Court, et al.  I do most heartily agree that we need to be alert not just to be doormats to Obama’s “change,” when change takes us down ungodly paths.  Indeed, we need to pray ALL THE MORE when there is someone in power with whom we don’t agree.  We need to intercede on behalf of those who cannot pray for themselves.  We need to weep.  We need to be stirred to action.  We need to be mobilized on behalf of the cause of Christ.  We need to not be afraid to be an army.  We need to be all the more Godly, all the more Christ-like.  We do need to be alert and prepared.

I just don’t think we need to be fearful.  I don’t think we should be fearful.


*I have known mothers who can nurse an infant whilst walking through Target with other children in tow, but that’s not me.  For one, I simply cannot multitask.  Secondly, I like to have those minutes as peaceful ones, both for my own personal benefit, and for the benefit of my newborn.  Third, almost all of my children (baby Fiala included) are easily-distracted nursers, meaning that if something disturbs them from the breast, it’s hard to get them back on.  This means that instead of a peaceful, pleasant 20-30 minute “job” that nursing should be, it turns into a 45-60 minute episode of me chiding, “C’mon, come back… eat… right here, sweetheart… please eat…”  I want nursing to be the enjoyable “task” that it should be, but 20 minutes at a clip is preferable to 60 minutes when one has four other children and multitudes of other responsibilities.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on November 22, 2008, in Babies, Books I'm Reading, Christian Living, Christianity, Family, God/Christianity/Church, Introspective Musings, Parenting, Political Thought, Sad Things, The Kids, Vineyard Phoenix. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Wow, that was really good. I lived in fear of my parents as well … and I’m feeling the same things about my kids – a desperate desire for them to obey and respect me, but an unwillingness to turn them into robots.

    Thanks for the great, thought-provoking blog!!

  2. Hmm. I am a huge proponent of nursing. Even if it takes an hour. Maybe shifting expectations during this time? She needs you, they do too. How to do both? That is like the caricature of homeschool families, the prov 31 woman, she does everything well while nursing a little one AND teaching 3 grades simultaneously AND shopping at Target.

    A checklist of things to do when Mom is nursing? Consequences? Pay to obey? It is proven that your tenseness does not help milk letdown. Or just letting things slide for this season. Or What? I dunno. I hope you find balance. It is a season that passes all too soon. Kids need to learn responsibility and obedience without fear.

  3. I agree with most of this. But (The But Monkey–Laura Ingraham), what is the response all through scripture when either God shows up OR a pre-incarnate Christ shows up OR even an Angel shows up OR what will it be when we stand before the Great White Throne? The response is always *naturally* fear. They always get told NOT to be afraid, but they are. Think of the most authoritative (not in a bad way) person you’ve ever been around and the jitters you feel around them. Imagine meeting the Queen or a President or Bill Gates.
    People will fall on their face before God. Every knee will bow. There will be fear–and you can call it reverence, but apparently fear seemed to fit the bill when many people have translated the Bible. Isaiah said, “Woe is me, I am undone.” Weeping and gnashing of teeth are not casual response nor is it simply respect. I just always come back to….the paradoxes of God, the two sides of the coin held in tension…..absolute mercy, absolute judgment, absolute grace and absolute justice, absolute terror (the Wrath of God I think would induce this) and absolute peace & comfort & kindness, on and on. It’s all a good motivator to be under the blood, standing in His righteousness, to be on His good side, at the right hand of blessing.

    On Obama. The Supreme Court decisions are oh so hard to overturn. We have chipped away at abortion law. To little avail except on state level. The decisions stand a long time. Roe is what? Nearing 40 years standing? And Obama plans to take his super majority (if Al Franken Steals MN) and make abortion etc FEDERAL law. He’s a federalist–more power centralized, less state autonomy.

    The difference with me that produces more fear to have to deal with and work to turn my eyes to Jesus is this– I think this is the last hour. I think Obama has an Anti-Christ spirit even if he isn’t THE AC. Knowing what I know about his background and likely warm feelings toward Islam makes me sure he will not defend Israel. Iran is armed as of this week. Knowing his alliances with terrorists like Khalidi (sp) and Ayers. Knowing he plans to disarm us and that his plan for Homeland Security is spending millions to *educate* on moderate Islam (read his website). The economy is down the drain. My husband’s job and millions of others are on the line. Things are ramping up like birth pangs described in scripture imo. Look at stats on earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes (sp) etc. So, all that I ever imagined or feared about the end times, all the unknowns are coming into play in my mind. Working prayerfully to focus on being prepared and putting one foot in front of the other, but when trust is not a strong suit, I am having to stretch my trust in God like never before.

    (see number of deaths 2000-2008)

  4. I love nursing but in the past my children have often used that time to get into some serious trouble. I am a little anxious, but with only a 3 yo to really worry about this time I am hoping things are better. LOL!

    Also everyone has a different opinion of God and I find that a lot of it is tied up in how our father raised us. Very interesting indeed. Maybe I need to do a psycho-analysis thing and make lots of money on it and book deal too. HA!
    I agree with you. The fear talked about in the Bible (at least for believers) seems to be respect,love,etc.

    One last thing and I will stop with my LONG comment. We don’t spank on a regular basis, probably once a month or less, but we do employ the chore jar an awful lot. But especially if they are fighting between themselves. They have to do it together. One day they are going to wake up and get along perfectly. I just know it!!

  5. My sweet KJ. It absolutely, without question, breaks my heart to hear of your fear as a child. My goal, too, is to have my children obey out of understanding of my love for them and wanting what is best for them. But darn that sinful nature for taking over more often than not and making it harder than it needs to be. I am so deeply sorry that your childhood memories are tinged, if not filled, with memories of fear. I wish that there was something that I could have done, or something that could have been done to make it different. But my life is FULL of precious memories of us together. I can’t have Hickory Farms beef stick without smiling and telling someone of how I used to go to the mall with my best friend and we would sample cheese until we were good and satisfied and then by a “beef stick” and munch on it happily while we walked through the mall. I love you so very much, my precious, precious friend.

  6. How difficult it can be to live with a violent and/or angry person! Thank you for sharing from your heart, friend. Thank you also for pointing out what the fruit of fear isn’t, and reminding me that the fruit of the Spirit and and the “whatever is …” passage are characteristics of God.

    I do want to share a couple of passages that came to mind:

    “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” I don’t know the reference for this one. It goes along with the following, so maybe it is also in I John.

    “Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God, for God is love.” I John 4:7,8, if I recall correctly.

  7. Wow! What a great post!

    I found your blog a month or two ago when I was googling gluten-free recipes for me and two of my children. It appears we have an abundance of things in common! I could have written quite a few of the posts I have read of yours (although I’m not as good of a writer, so maybe I couldn’t have actually written them, but I nodded my head a lot and said “yes, yes, exactly!” :)).

    I grew up the same way – robotic clones of my parents were what they wanted (I’m the youngest of seven)… all the while claiming they were living in God’s Will. Oh, how much I have learned as an adult. And as a parent. (I am pregnant with number six… the post you wrote about how you can’t believe you are even thinking about six? I could have written that one after number five was born!).

    Oh, and another thing we have in common (besides having lots of kids, eating healthy and gluten-free [though I do consume hormone-free dairy], having the same views on the fear of God (and the fear of parents)… I HATE being pregnant, but giving birth is awesome. I haven’t always had great experiences with the birthing process, but I’d rather do labor/delivery once a month for nine months in a row than be pregnant for that long!!! Oh, but the newborn at the end of it? yum!!! I can’t wait. And uh, this will be IT for us (unless God sees fit for us to have another – never say never – but yeah, I really want this to be IT). 🙂

    I have rambled enough. I will continue to enjoy your blog. I really feel a connection through your writings. 🙂

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