FEAR GOD OR FEAR MAN
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Jer 20:10-13; Ps 69; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33 ]
Jesus told His disciples “Do not be afraid.” Fear is a natural emotion in the face of danger to one’s life, security, well-being, and especially death. Therefore, to fear contracting Covid-19 is a natural fear. We are afraid of earthquakes, illnesses, hunger, and suffering. Even Jesus was afraid of the passion ahead of Him when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said, “‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Lk 22:42-44)
Of course, there is also chronic fear that is more psychological than real because of our experiences. This comes especially from childhood traumas due to violence, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse. Some are due to bad encounters with people, insects, animals or accidents like car accidents or falling from a height. As a result, we suffer from all kinds of phobias in life, such as claustrophobia, fear of heights, fear of being alone, fear of blood, fear of water, fear of thunder and lightning, fear of animals and insects. Such psychological fears are irrational and cause us more harm. Phobias in truth are a type of anxiety disorder.
So how do we overcome fear? From the outset, we must state that fear is not always negative. Some fears are good because they keep us from falling into danger and harm. Such fears keep us alert and attentive. Otherwise, we can be careless and reckless. Knowing that Covid-19 has killed many people especially the elderly, it means we need to take precaution. Such fears cause us to be ready for the future. When fears help us to be better people, to be more alert and proactive, such fears are helpful. What we must fear are those fears that destroy us, paralyze us, and cause us to live a life of deep anxiety, loneliness, anger, and resentment. Such fears limit our growth and happiness.
What, then, is the cause of all fears? It is the consequence of the loss of the fear of God. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Indeed, this is the real root of fear. Man no longer fears God. The world has misled us into thinking that God is the cause of our fears. Because of God and His desire to punish us, we lack the freedom to do what we want. All the atheistic philosophers speak of the death of God as the way to gain our freedom. According to them, so long as we fear God, we cannot be ourselves. We cannot do what we want and what we like because we fear offending Him. God is a joy-killer.
Therefore, the way to remove all fears is to remove God from society. This is what secularism and atheism seek to do. The world wants to marginalize God so that no one will believe in God. Without God, there is no morality, there is no truth, there is no judgment, there is no hell and there is no fear of eternal death. Without God, therefore, we can be truly free and be happy, do whatever we like, enjoy our life, and all pleasures without guilt because there is no judgment and no eternal death. There is no retribution and punishment in the next world. There is no immortal soul since God who is pure Spirit does not exist. We are only made of matter and after death, we become dust again.
This is of course the greatest deception. In fact, without God, we have lost all our freedom. Now instead of fearing God, we fear death. This is because death means the end of everything. All that we worked for, all the wealth that we have accumulated, all our hard work and achievements, and all our possessions will have to be left behind when we die. This explains why we are in a hurry to enjoy as much as we can in this life, undertake all kinds of adventures, and indulge in all kinds of sensual enjoyments, sex and the pleasures of life. So why should we care about tomorrow, about the future of humanity, the future of our family and our children, society and the future of this earth? We will no longer be around. Let those who are still around handle their problems. We will not be around to suffer the consequences.
Because we fear death, we end up fearing our fellowmen. We are afraid that they will deprive us of our share of happiness in life. We want more wealth, more money, and more luxuries. We see the need to compete for the small pie. We steal, we rob, we cheat and we kill to get what we want so long as we are not caught. We use power and influence to destroy the weak, the vulnerable, and the voiceless. From the individual to the international level, this is the rule of the day. Powerful nations manipulate and control weak and small nations. Every country wants to expand its power, military, technology, and economic power for fear that if they do not, others will have a bigger share of the pie. This is why nations are at war with each other, individuals are quarreling with one another, families are divided; friendships are destroyed.
This is what St Paul is telling us in the second reading. “Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned.” It is because of sin that death has entered into this world, not just biological death but spiritual death. Sin is destructive of one’s well-being and happiness. When we sin, we hurt ourselves as much as we hurt God who loves us and cares deeply for our happiness. It is not true what atheists claim, that God takes away our freedom by imposing the laws. St Paul made it clear that regardless of the laws, we would have sinned. “Sin existed in the world long before the Law was given. There was no law and so no one could be accused of the sin of ‘law-breaking’, yet death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even though their sin, unlike that of Adam, was not a matter of breaking a law.” Regardless of the law, so long as we do evil, we destroy ourselves through physical and spiritual death.
When God provided us the laws, it does not mean that just because we break the laws, we sin. The laws can only indicate what is sin and wrong. Just because we do not know that what we are drinking is poison does not mean that we will not die. Therefore, a bottle is labeled poison so that we will not drink the substance accidentally. However, if we insist on taking the substance knowing that it is poison, we will kill ourselves. So this is the purpose of the laws of God, to let us know what is evil so that we do not fall into sin and destroy our body and soul.
However, the law cannot stop a person from going against its advice. The laws cannot save us or give us the capacity to obey them. More so the laws of the world, because they are rooted not in the fear of God but in the fear of man. Many of the laws of modern society are made by unenlightened people to accommodate the wishes and desires of everyone. In order to protect themselves from other men, they make all kinds of laws. But when people no longer fear God, why would they fear men or even the laws? No matter what laws we institute, people will break the laws. They just hope they will not be caught.
The warning of Jesus has come true. Instead of fearing those who kill the body, we should rather fear those who kill the soul. The world will not only destroy our body but will destroy our soul. Our life is now lived without meaning because it is just lived on the material level. Life is about pleasure, self-indulgence, power, glory, and honour. At the extreme end of this spectrum is a person filled with envy, greed, lust, jealousy, anger, hatred, revengefulness, and sloth. Secularism, atheism, and materialism have stripped man of his soul, his dignity, his freedom, meaning, and joy in life.
Hence, the key to overcoming fear is to fear God. When we fear God, we do not fear Him as one who comes to destroy us and take away our life and joy, but we hold Him with respect and wonder for we know that He loves us. Knowing God’s love for us and especially in the sacrifice of His Son, we know that we are forgiven, loved, and saved. As St Paul wrote, “Adam prefigured the One to come, but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift.” Only Christ can help us to overcome the fear of death by overcoming death and giving us eternal life in His death and resurrection.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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