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What is the Proper Balance Between Loving and...
Sadhika Pant
 April 16 2024 at 11:58 am
This question has been cropping up in my mind again and again of late. Loving God encompasses feelings of adoration, reverence, and devotion. It involves a deep emotional connection and a desire to cultivate a relationship based on love, trust, and intimacy. Love prompts acts of worship, gratitude, and service as expressions of devotion towards the divine. On the other hand, fearing God involves a sense of awe, respect, and humility in the face of the divine's power, authority, and majesty. Fear in this context does not necessarily imply terror or dread but rather a profound awareness of God's transcendence and sovereignty. It can inspire obedience, piety, and a healthy reverence for divine will and moral principles. How does Hinduism answer this question? Finding the proper balance between these two attitudes is a complex endeavour and different traditions preach different modes of relating to the divine. At the risk of overwriting my own interpretation more than is justified over the wide-ranging perspectives encompassed by Hinduism, I would say that the relationship between devotee and deity in this faith is characterised more by intense love and devotion, known as Bhakti, than by fear. From this standpoint, love is considered paramount. The Bhagavad Gita, a central text in Hindu philosophy, elucidates the importance of devotion and love towards the divine. For instance, in Chapter 9, Verse 22, Lord Krishna says, “Those who are always full of love, who worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form - to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” However, the concept of fear (or awe) in relation to God is not entirely absent in Hindu thought. Some Hindu traditions, particularly those influenced by Shaivism (worship of Lord Shiva, the destroyer), acknowledge the paradoxical nature of the divine, which encompasses both benevolent and wrathful aspects. In these traditions, fear may arise from a profound reverence for the awe-inspiring power and cosmic order (dharma) maintained by the divine. Another aspect of Hinduism which deserves mention here, is that God is not held to be the authority tasked with punishing sinners. The law of karma (actions and their consequences) evokes a certain fear among Hindus, but this fear arises not from a punitive deity, but from the recognition that negative actions lead to negative consequences. In this sense, fearing God could be seen as a form of respect for the cosmic order rather than a dread of punishment. All in all, I would say that Hinduism characterises the relationship with God to be one of love, with fear playing a very small role (if at all) in maintaining humility and reverence towards the divine. How do other faiths answer this question? In Judaism, the concept of fearing God, known as "Yirat Hashem," is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. Proverbs 9:10 famously states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” At the same time, Judaism also places a strong emphasis on love for God, as expressed in the commandment to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). This love is characterised by devotion, loyalty, and obedience to God's commandments, as exemplified by figures like Abraham, Moses, and King David in Jewish tradition. Christianity similarly emphasises both love and fear in the context of the relationship with God. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ teaches about the importance of loving God and loving one's neighbour as oneself (Matthew 22:37-39). The Apostle John reaffirms this message, stating, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment" (1 John 4:18). Here, love is portrayed as the antidote to fear, suggesting that a deep, intimate relationship with God dispels apprehension and dread. However, Christianity also acknowledges the importance of reverential fear towards God. Jesus himself teaches his disciples, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). This fear is not based on a fear of punishment alone but on a recognition of God's power, holiness, and judgement. Christians believe that God's love, grace, and mercy are freely given to those who trust in Him, inviting them into a relationship marked by love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Relevance in day to day prayer Keeping aside the philosophy for a moment, the question becomes relevant in day to day prayer rituals. Take, for example, the common dilemmas encountered in everyday life, such as the moments of worry or uncertainty. The anxiety preceding a routine medical checkup. Or the guilt and fear one feels when a sinful thought crosses one's mind, followed swiftly by a prayer of apology. In such instances, the fear experienced, characteristic of a God-fearing individual, can be viewed as a factor that strengthens faith. And why not? If one experiences a fear of God each time a transgression occurs or whenever fear arises, it implies that one's thoughts often turn to God, perhaps as frequently as they do to one's own shortcomings. On the other hand, as a Hindu, I ask myself: What brings on the fear? Unwavering faith in God, or a lack thereof? More devoted Hindus than myself might argue that to give in to fear signifies a faltering faith in a deity whose omnipotence and benevolence can orchestrate miracles to guide us through adversity. They would say that God's love and forgiveness are boundless, akin to an expansive ocean capable of purifying our souls, even amidst the muddied currents of our transgressions. With the blessings of such a God, the decision to fear undermines the love of God. I have no clear answer. But that’s okay. Certain questions must be allowed to linger in our contemplation. This is not a question to which one can simply borrow someone else's answer, no matter how convincing. The answer we must find by ourselves, even if it emerges incoherently.

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