[Pope##s Article of 30 August, 2009] (469) by Dr. Wedad Abbas]
Many spiritual benefits of the fear of God
The angels, being crowned with righteousness, do not fear, but the human beings who fall in sins every day are always subject to fear. This is because fear precedes and follows sin and is always connected with it.
* The first type of fear is fear of falling …
It is fear preceding sin, and can be useful if it leads a person to be cautious. A person who leads a pure life fears to fail, because it is said about sin that it has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men (Prov 7: 26). Indeed it cast down great characters like David, Solomon, and Samson, and apostles like Peter and Thomas. Therefore St. Paul the Apostle warns us saying, “Do not be haughty, but fear.” (Rom 11:20)
Everybody, even a spiritual person, ought to fear falling, not because of terror but of cautiousness due to the violence of the spiritual wars and the devil##s power of deceit. That is why St. Peter the Apostle says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet 5: 8) And St. Paul the Apostle likewise, speaking about spiritual wars, says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers … against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Eph 6: 12) “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fail.” (1 Cor 10: 12) And as a warning to us he says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have reached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Cor 9: 27)
How significant are these words said by such a great apostle who went up into the third heaven and labored more than all the other apostles! Therefore, a spiritual person should exert every effort to keep away from all causes of sin for fear of falling after having walked a long way in the spiritual life, lest he should experience what happened to the Galatians who were rebuked by the Apostle for, having begun in the Spirit, they were made perfect by the flesh (Gal 3: 3).
What avails is not how we started and how we are now, but how we shall be and what our end will be! The spiritual people benefit from this first type of fear, fear of falling in sin, and put before themselves the words of the Psalm, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” (Ps 1: 1)
* When a person sins he falls in another type of fear: fear of being exposed.
Such a person will be in fear of being exposed and put to shame and defamed by merciless people if his sin is revealed. Therefore psychologists say that a criminal always goes around the place of crime fearing that he might have left any traces that may lead to him. That is why the investigators make use of this psychological factor and allude to some traces of the crime to see if the criminal becomes confused or breaks down.
For fear of being exposed, sin is usually committed in darkness and hidden places …
Therefore it is said about the sinners, “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil,” (Jn 3: 19) “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly see, that they have been done in God.” (Jn 3: 20, 21) That is why the righteous are called “the children of light”, and the wicked “the children of darkness”, because they arrange for their sins in secret.
They fear the Last Day when works shall be revealed, books opened, and thoughts and intents searched. But where can they flee or hide?
Even if their sins are not revealed on the earth in any way, they shall certainly be revealed before the Just Judge and before everybody on the Day of Judgment. They fear lest that which is spoken in the ears in inner rooms be proclaimed on the housetops. they fear the terrible words, “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” (Mt 10: 26)
Where can they hide their faces, where there will be no secrets, nor sins, but everything revealed and known …
Something else a spiritual person fears, that his sins be revealed before the spirits of the departed, his beloved or those who trusted him, lest they be astonished, or before those who used to criticize him lest they see they were right!
Some would inquire what to do!
Repentance blots out sin, as if not done at all. It washes you and you will be whiter than snow, and there will be no sins you fear to be revealed. If you are afraid, repent, so that the angles and the spirits of the saints may rejoice, for, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Lk 15: 7)
* Another type of fear is connected with sin: it is fear of punishment or rather of the consequences of sin …
When our father Adam sinned, he became afraid and hid behind a tree. His relationship with God changed from love to fear. Cain the murderer likewise fell not only in fear but also in terror, and he said to God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth.” (Gen 4: 13, 14) And David the Prophet became afraid after his sin and said, “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.” (Ps 6: 1, 2)
A sinner fears two punishments: the earthly one and the heavenly one.
The heavenly punishment is terrible and everlasting (I shall speak about it afterwards). The earthly punishment is of various kinds: a punishment from the community represented in shame and disdain or rejection and mistrust, or punishment by law whether imprisonment or otherwise; the other punishment is inflicted by God on the sinner, whether disease, infirmity, or curses like those mentioned in (Deut 28), or inflicted on his children and grandchildren.
A sinner or a cautious person is also exposed to spiritual fear.
Such a person fears God##s wrath or rejection, as God rejected King Saul (1 Sam 16). He fears to grieve or quench the Spirit or be forsaken by the Spirit (1 Sam 16: 14) or by the grace, or be given up by God to vile passions or to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts (Rom 1: 28, 24).
Such a person fears to lose the divine image in which he was created in the beginning, and fears lest anyone takes his crown and removes his lamp stand from its place (Rev 2: 5), lest an enemy gains power over him and he loses his will power, the freedom of God##s children, and the evil he wills not to do, that he practices (Rom 7: 19). In a word he fears to develop down and to the worse. He fears to hear the words of the Lord, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Rev 3: 1)
Such a person fears to face death suddenly without being ready to stand in God##s presence …
A saint once said that he fears three things: the coming of the spirit out of the body; the moment of standing before the Just Judge; and the moment the judgment is rendered against him!
If the saints in spite of the high level they attained in the life of virtue do fear, what ought we to say about ourselves?! Who fears God shall not sin, and who sins is one who does not fear God …
Who fears God does not oppress the others, because he fears God who judges for the oppressed. Who fears God does not fall into filthiness, because he knows God who is Holy. Who fears God does not do evil, not even in secret, because he knows that God sees everything, hears everything, and searches even the depths of the hearts.
Some would inquire about those who do evil and have no fear!
Such people have fallen in a state of recklessness and indifference, or have a weak or idle conscience, or are so occupied that they find no time to examine themselves or their actions. They are in spiritual unconsciousness. If they wake up they will be afraid. Some of those at the hour of death are terrified because they have not prepared themselves for that hour. They feel that they wasted their life.
You may say, ##I want to lead a life of love, not fear##, and I say to you, ##if this is your wish, do not sin, for sin is connected with fear.##
Certainly a person at the time of sinning has no fear of God, as the Psalmist says: “They have not set God before them.” (Ps 54: 3). If you are sinless you need not fear. And if you sinned but reconciled with God afterwards, regretting and rebuking yourself and giving yourself a punishment, and lead a life of repentance, then need not fear.
Being sinful God gave us His fear to correct our way, as the apostle says, “Since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.” (Heb 4: 1) So, if you do not want to be afraid on that Day, have fear now, so that fear may prevent you from sinning and removes away fear on the Last Day.
There is more about the benefits of fear which I shall speak about next week, God willing.