A manual of Jewish belief (a guide to real Judaism) for the thinking individual.
Copyright © 1977 by R' Avi Shafran
[Web Page Last Revised: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 02:33 PM ]
Chapter 13. Fear of G~d
The different stages of attitude that can be employed in the service of G~d and in the execution of His will were already defined in the preceding chapter. Worship and service out of fear of punishment (or desire for reward) was the lowest level for a believer. Higher up on the scale was service out of pure love for G~d. Then came the highest stage, also called "fear", but a "fear of offending" which is the epitome of the purest love for G~d.
There is yet another concept (this one more an emotion or feeling than an attitude) which goes by the nickname of "fear". This is the "fear of G~d's greatness" which we mentioned in passing back in the first chapter.
This is the emotion felt when one is confronted with, for instance, the vastness of the universe, or the wonders of biology, the kindness of G~d towards His creations, or, spare us, His power of destruction and retribution. In short, whenever G~d's presence makes itself particularly evident and jolts us into a stronger realization of Him, we are experiencing this "fear". A storm rolling in, a glance through a telescope, a baby's development, an earthquake, or a solar eclipse all have the potential to arouse this emotion in human beings.
This type of fear is some people's sole source of belief in G~d, their wellspring of that natural urge to realize G~d. A heightened awareness allows these people to actually feel G~d when experiencing or witnessing His influence. But even People who cannot base their belief on this emotion can certainly, and are obligated to, use it as a reinforcement of already established faith and as a strengthening of realization of G~d.
For, every man, even if he thinks himself a true believer in G~d, is not. If he was, he would never sin, out of utter terror of G~d's punishment. No one is completely clear of sin, so no one is a real believer.
Actually this is inaccurate and rash terminology. We are all believers, in truth. But there is another factor included in this business of faith. It is realization. One can fully believe but only realize to a small extent. Our lack of full realization is caused by the fact that G~d is invisible. This is why believers can sin, even knowingly. (See chapter 16.)
Realization can be strengthened and revitalized by exercising the emotion which we referred to as the "fear of G~d's greatness". Carried to its ultimate degree, this fear would cause a man to think and act as if G~d stood before him, in some ultra-real form, watching his every move and listening in to his every thought. Each of us can only hope that he will someday reach this apogee of faith.
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