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:
- As a response from believers and nonbelievers alike at the signs and wonders in Acts 2.
- Used in reference to personal weakness.
- As a warning in I Timothy 5:20, where it teaches how believers who are unrepentant are to be reprimanded in front of everyone so that the fear it induces in others will serve as a deterrent from sin.
- Phobos being something that from which Jesus delivers us (here, as well).
- It’s also seen several times in Revelation over the events that happen during the end times. (I am not an expert in Revelation; I just know who wins. 😉 But, it does certainly appear to me that the fear/phobos that is struck in the hearts of those in Revelation are done so in the hearts of unbelievers.)
- Phobos is also used when talking about how people who have broken laws are fearful of the authorities.
- It is used to say that we should NOT have fear/phobos when persecuted.
In fact, several times, we are told to have aphobos (the opposite of phobos) before God and others. We are to serve Him without fear. Paul told the Corinthians to put Timothy at ease so that he could serve without phobos/fear. Philippians 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.
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.