Growing up in West Virginia in the heart of America’s Bible Belt, I frequently heard statements like “He’s a God-fearin’ man” and “That’ll put the fear of God in him”. Though my upbringing was middle-class and my church was middle-of-the-road Protestant, most of the kids I went to school with and people on the local TV shows we watched used such phrases when talking about their fundamental religion.
To call someone a “God-fearin’ man” was actually a supreme complement. The idea was that if one was sufficiently fearful of God’s wrath, they would act in a high moral way. It was therefore the job of the church to instill this fear into the parishioners, so that they would act in the proper way. Conversely, if someone was not in such fear of God, it was assumed he would have loose morals and would be more likely to commit immoral acts and crimes and blasphemies.
This all came down to a belief that there would someday be a judgment from God on all that we’ve done in this life. If we don’t fear that judgment, we won’t follow God’s directives, as delineated in the Bible, and will therefore be judged harshly when the time comes, perhaps being sent to eternal damnation. Instilling this fear was an important part of the process of raising children.
This idea of fearing God is in varying degrees a part of all of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sects. Though God can be seen as loving, this love seems to be conditional on our behaving in certain ways. Whether it’s through ritual worship or good deeds or right actions, we must do certain things in order to receive God’s Love. Otherwise we will disappoint God and receive God’s wrath.
The Course and the Fear of God
In the Course, the ego is the part of the mind solely focused on maintaining the illusionary idea of separation. The ego will use whatever it can, including fear, guilt, pain, and perceived attack, in order to lock us into this illusion.
One of the fundamental barriers the ego creates is between the self we believe we are in this illusionary world and the true Oneness of God. This true God is unconditionally Loving and without judgment. The ego knows if we were to fully experience this true Loving God, all of the illusion of separation would fall away. The ego’s mission, therefore, is to prevent us from having this experience.
One of the primary tools of the ego is fear, but in order to make us fearful of God, the ego has to create an image of a ‘God’ that is wrathful and judgmental, a ‘God’ who requires certain behaviors on our part in order to receive its conditional love. In reality we never seem to be able to meet all of this ‘God’s’ requirements and end up fearing the inevitable judgment.
So then what is a “God-fearin’ man”? This is someone who has bought the ego’s picture of this ‘God’, hook, line, and sinker. It’s the ego that puts the fear of God in someone, simply for the purpose of preventing us from seeing we are without sin, without guilt, and ultimately without fear.
The religions that tell us God is to be feared are simply tools of the ego. Though all religions contain some kernels of truth, the image of God we are presented with in Western religions always includes an element of judgment and therefore an element of fear is instilled in us.
Freeing Ourselves from the Fear
We are, however, not stuck with this fear. As with everything in the Course, the way to free ourselves from this fear is through forgiveness. We first must observe and recognize all the beliefs we have of a ‘God’ that is anything other than Pure Love. Once we observe these beliefs, we can forgive these one by one, until there is nothing left in our minds but the True God.
The process begins by thoroughly examining all the beliefs you have about God. It might be helpful to write these down as they come to you. Go back to your earliest days and remember everything you’ve been told about God, whether from your parents, the church, your friends, the media – anywhere someone has been presenting a description of God.
For each of these observations, determine which ones present a picture of a ‘God’ that is in any way anything other than Pure Love. Then forgive this image of ‘God’, forgive the person or institution that presented this image to you, and ultimately forgive yourself for believing in this less than loving ‘God’.
For example, suppose you were told in church as a young person that it’s against God’s laws to steal, and you will be punished by God if you do. This punishing God is one that will love and care for you only if you follow these rules.
Now say, “I forgive my belief in a punishing God.” Then “I forgive the church that presented this image to me.” Finally “I forgive myself for believing that God is anything other than Pure Love.”
Now call on the Holy Spirit and pass off all the feelings of fear and worry and lack of self-worth associated with this belief. In doing this, your contact with the Holy Spirit will free you of these feelings which are all illusions created by the ego to prevent you from embracing the True God, of which you are an integral part.
We can continue this process by forgiving any other non-loving thoughts we have about God. As we do this, a new picture of God will emerge – a beautiful, Loving experience of Oneness. We can all free ourselves from the ego’s picture of God, and when we do, we’ll be “God-fearin’” no more.