Fear of God

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For other uses, see Fear of God (disambiguation).

Fear of God is the idea of living in respect, awe, and submission to a deity.


The first mention of the fear of God in the Hebrew Bible is in Genesis 22:12, where Abraham is commended for putting his trust in God. The New Testament book of Hebrews comments on this event by explaining, "Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which he did receive him back."

(Hebrews 11:17-19). Because of this passage many Christians conclude that Abraham's fear of God was an act of trust in God, that God would give Isaac back to Abraham. Others believe that Abraham's fear of God was his willingness to obey God, even though it would mean losing his Son.[1] Many Jews and Christians believe the fear of God to be devotion itself, rather than a sense of being frightened of God. It can also mean fear of God's judgment. The fear of God is described in Proverbs 8:13 as "the hatred of evil." Throughout the Bible it is said to bring many rewards. Conversely, not fearing God is said to result in Divine retribution.

Some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version, sometimes replace the word "fear" with "reverence". This is because the Fear of the Lord incorporates more than simple fear. As Robert B. Strimple says, "There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and, yes, fear."[2]

Roman Catholics count this fear as one of the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10, the fear of the Lord is called the beginning or foundation of wisdom. In Proverbs 15:33, the fear of the Lord is described as the "discipline" or "instruction" of wisdom.[3][4] The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that this gift "fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him."[5]

In an April 2006 article[6] published in Inside the Vatican magazine, contributing editor John Mallon writes 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).

Rudolf Otto coined the term "Numinous" to express the type of fear one has for the Lord. C.S. Lewis references the term in many of his writings, but specifically describes it in his book The Problem of Pain and states that fear of the numinous is not a fear that one feels for a tiger, or even a ghost. Rather, the fear of the numinous, as C. S. Lewis describes it, is one filled with awe, in which you "feel wonder and a certain shrinking" or "a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of or prostration before it". It is a fear that comes forth out of love for the Lord.

The Fear of God is felt because one understands the "fearful expectation of judgement" (Hebrews 10:27). Still, this is not a fear that leads one to despair, rather it must be coupled with trust, and most importantly, love. In Psalms 130:3-4, it is said, "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared."


Main article: Taqwa

The Love of God, and the Fear of God, are two of the foundations of Islam.[citation needed]


Having the fear of God is most often considered to be a positive sign of spiritual well-being. It is raising ourselves up in a sense of awe to our possibilities and divine glory. It is to be like Moses who humbly aware of his greatness defied a king to lead a nation from enslavement to freedom in Gods honor and glory.

Alternatively, the fear of God is understanding how God can raise us up if He so chooses to use us as He did Moses. It was not anything Moses could do or understand himself to himself - it was his humility that God expected of him as supreme ruler of the universe.[citation needed]


Bahya ibn Paquda characterized two types of fear as a lower "fear of punishment" and a higher "fear of [divine awe] glory."

Abraham *Ibn Daud differentiated between "fear of harm" (analogous to fear of a snake bite or a king's punishment) and "fear of greatness," analogous to respect for an exalted person, who would do us no harm.

Maimonides categorized the fear of God as a positive commandment, as the feeling of human insignificance deriving from contemplation of God's "great and wonderful actions and creations." [7][8]

Rejection of the notion[edit]

Many theological positions reject the notion of a 'fear of God.' Atheism denies the existence of all gods, and so simply proposes no such entity to be feared at all. Religious author Boyd C. Purcell and atheist Sam Harris each have compared doctrines promoting the fear of God to living under the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages feel a misplaced sense of connection and affection for the hostage taker.[9] But some theological positions do propose the possibility of theological realities without having gods to be feared, or with gods which need be feared. For example, the concept of a fear of God is resolutely denied in Buddhism, as well as in Pantheism and Pandeism.

In Buddhism, Gautama Buddha did not endorse belief in a creator deity,[10][11] refused to express any views on creation[12] and stated that questions on the origin of the world are worthless.[13][14] The non-adherence[15] to the notion of an omnipotent creator deity or a prime mover is seen by many as a key distinction between Buddhism and other religions. Rather, Buddhism emphasizes the system of causal relationships underlying the universe (pratitya samutpada) which constitute the natural order (dharma). No dependence of phenomena on a supernatural reality is asserted in order to explain the behaviour of matter. According to the doctrine of the Buddha a human being must study Nature (dhamma vicaya) in order to attain personal wisdom (prajna) regarding the nature of things (dharma). In Buddhism the sole aim of spiritual practice is the complete alleviation of stress in samsara,[16][17] called nirvana. But Buddhists do accept the existence of beings in higher realms (see Buddhist cosmology), known as devas, but they, like humans, are said to be suffering in samsara,[18] and are not necessarily wiser than us. The Buddha is often portrayed as a teacher of the gods,[19] and superior to them.[20] Despite this there are believed to be enlightened devas.[21] But since there may also be unenlightened devas, there may be godlike beings who engage in fearful acts, but if they do so, then they do so out of their own ignorance of a greater truth.

In Pantheism and Pandeism, God either is or has become our Universe, and so fear of God would be no more rational than fear of ourselves, which are part of God, and the notion of God acting in a way to be feared towards us is no more rational than the idea of God acting in a way to be feared towards itself.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "A Treatise of the Fear of God by John Bunyan". Mountainretreatorg.net. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  2. ^ "The Fear of the Lord". Opc.org. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  3. ^ The New Jewish Publication Society of America Version translates the Hebrew as discipline.
  4. ^ The New Revised Standard Version translates the Hebrew as instruction.
  5. ^ "Holy Ghost". Catholic Encyclopedia. 1910. 
  6. ^ Mallon, John (April 2006). "The Primacy of Jesus, the Primacy of Love". ISSN 1068-8579. 
  7. ^ "Fear of God". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  8. ^ [1] Archived October 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^ Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb, by Boyd C. Purcell, page 199, 2008, ISBN 1434378888.
  10. ^ Thera, Nyanaponika. "Buddhism and the God-idea". The Vision of the Dhamma. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct. 
  11. ^ Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia by Anne M. Blackburn (editor), Jeffrey Samuels (editor). Pariyatti Publishing: 2003 ISBN 1-928706-19-3 pg 129
  12. ^ Bhikku Bodhi (2007). "III.1, III.2, III.5". In Access To Insight. The All Embracing Net of Views: Brahmajala Sutta. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. 
  13. ^ Thanissaro Bhikku (1997). "Acintita Sutta: Unconjecturable". AN 4.77. Access To Insight. Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it. 
  14. ^ Thanissaro Bhikku (1998). "Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya". Access To Insight. It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him. In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,'... or that 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata. 
  15. ^ Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). Tittha Sutta: Sectarians. Then in that case, a person is a killer of living beings because of a supreme being's act of creation... When one falls back on lack of cause and lack of condition as being essential, monks, there is no desire, no effort [at the thought], 'This should be done. This shouldn't be done.' When one can't pin down as a truth or reality what should & shouldn't be done, one dwells bewildered & unprotected. One cannot righteously refer to oneself as a contemplative. 
  16. ^ Thanissaro Bhikku (2004). "Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile". Access To Insight. Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress. 
  17. ^ Thanissaro Bhikku (2004). "Anuradha Sutta: To Anuradha". Access To Insight. Both formerly & now, it is only stress that I describe, and the cessation of stress. 
  18. ^ John T Bullitt (2005). "The Thirty-one planes of Existence". Access To Insight. Retrieved May 26, 2010. The suttas describe thirty-one distinct "planes" or "realms" of existence into which beings can be reborn during this long wandering through samsara. These range from the extraordinarily dark, grim, and painful hell realms to the most sublime, refined, and exquisitely blissful heaven realms. Existence in every realm is impermanent; in Buddhist cosmology there is no eternal heaven or hell. Beings are born into a particular realm according to both their past kamma and their kamma at the moment of death. When the kammic force that propelled them to that realm is finally exhausted, they pass away, taking rebirth once again elsewhere according to their kamma. And so the wearisome cycle continues. 
  19. ^ Susan Elbaum Jootla (1997). "II. The Buddha Teaches Deities". In Access To Insight. Teacher of the Devas. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. Many people worship Maha Brahma as the supreme and eternal creator God, but for the Buddha he is merely a powerful deity still caught within the cycle of repeated existence. In point of fact, "Maha Brahma" is a role or office filled by different individuals at different periods." "His proof included the fact that "many thousands of deities have gone for refuge for life to the recluse Gotama" (MN 95.9). Devas, like humans, develop faith in the Buddha by practicing his teachings." "A second deva concerned with liberation spoke a verse which is partly praise of the Buddha and partly a request for teaching. Using various similes from the animal world, this god showed his admiration and reverence for the Exalted One.", "A discourse called Sakka's Questions (DN 21) took place after he had been a serious disciple of the Buddha for some time. The sutta records a long audience he had with the Blessed One which culminated in his attainment of stream-entry. Their conversation is an excellent example of the Buddha as "teacher of devas," and shows all beings how to work for Nibbana. 
  20. ^ Bhikku, Thanissaro (1997). Kevaddha Sutta. Access To Insight. When this was said, the Great Brahma said to the monk, 'I, monk, am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, All-Powerful, the Sovereign Lord, the Maker, Creator, Chief, Appointer and Ruler, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be... That is why I did not say in their presence that I, too, don't know where the four great elements... cease without remainder. So you have acted wrongly, acted incorrectly, in bypassing the Blessed One in search of an answer to this question elsewhere. Go right back to the Blessed One and, on arrival, ask him this question. However he answers it, you should take it to heart. 
  21. ^ "Yidams". Himalayanart.org. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 

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