Why are we supposed to fear God? I remember being in second or third grade and hearing my school’s bible teacher say: “Never ask God to give you what you deserve because then you might as well be asking to be struck by lightning.” Oh, that’s why.
I was seven, walking around thinking that God wanted to strike me with lightning so I better be careful. Of course, when I grew up, I began to form my own view of God and create my own relationship, but in the back of my head, I kept thinking that God didn’t really think I was worth it and wanted to smite me. It felt like a high school popularity contest and if I made one wrong move, I was going to be a social outcast. Only this time, it was eternal damnation.
This past summer, I was sitting in Central Park with a couple friends and we were discussing the ideas of God and love (you know, just a light conversation one has on a warm summer day). My friend told me the story of the first time she heard of “sin” and “hell” in fourth or fifth grade. She was completely distraught. It had never occurred to her that she could do something to anger God, or that someone who was a good person could still go to hell. She had always been told: “God is love.”
That was still an odd concept for me, even as an adult. The more I thought of it, the more the idea of fearing God made me cringe. Revering, respecting, trusting, loving—all of those words made sense. But fear? Fear because I was afraid of angering God? Me, practically a single cell in the scope of the universe, capable of angering the God who created the whole universe? I’m not so sure anymore. In all honesty, I bet I make God laugh, roll their eyes (if they have eyes), and probably bore them.
I think fear is not the best word to describe how we should feel about a creator of the universe. Love, trust, awe—these are all better words. Fear sounds too close to control, and God did not give us free will only to be controlled by fear.
However, I thought, what if it wasn’t a fear of God, but a fear of punishment, a fear of hell, a fear of a permanent death? No matter how much peace you make with the idea, we all have a fear of death to a certain extent. It’s the greatest unknown that only God knows. We’ve intertwined God and death so tightly together that it is hard to distinguish them sometimes.
I still fear that God doesn’t want to love me, that they’re waiting for me to mess up. I have to keep reminding myself to replace my fear with awe, with love, or with curiosity.