The fear of God

My family has never been a religious one. For as long as I can remember, my family has never celebrated anything religion-oriented, not even Christmas (their annual business-gathering-disguised-as-a-Christmas-party notwithstanding). Maybe that was why, at the age of twelve, I decided to become a Roman Catholic, so that I would have some form of belief system. For the first five years after being Confirmed, I attended Mass every single Sunday, took Communion, went for probably more Confessions than were appropriate for someone my age, and read the Bible in both English and Latin. Then when I was 17, my father opened his first restaurant (perfectly timed, no doubt, to begin right after I was done with high school), and I was enslaved to the business, which marked the end of Mass and my days as a good Catholic.

I’ve never really considered myself a ‘religious’ person, but I’ve always harbored the childish notion that God really is watching and listening to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. It is perhaps this notion that lies behind the meaning of ‘the fear of God’. We may want something, but if we want it for the wrong reasons, God would choose not to give it to us. If we get what we want by the wrong means, God would let us have it for a while, and then take it away from us the same way we took it for ourselves. And if we’re waiting for something, but decide to give up waiting because we think we’ve waited long enough, God might decide that we don’t deserve it because we simply lacked the patience and faith.

What is it that keeps us hanging on and holding out for something? Is it our absolute determination to have it, and our unswerving faith that if we are patient enough, it will come to us? Even when we know it’s a lost cause, do we hold on for dear life in the hope that it will all eventually work out for us? Or are we just afraid that God will observe how we handle ourselves during these hard times, and then make the final decision as to who deserves what?

A decade ago, my very first tattoo artist told me, “I’ve learned in my old age that if something doesn’t happen now, it just means that there’s something greater out there waiting to happen soon.” If that were true, then would we still be hanging around to see if what we’ve been waiting for all these months would ever happen to us, or would we just let it go in pursuit of that ‘something greater’? Wouldn’t God then decide that we are undeserving of either one and in the end leave us with nothing? Do we continue, then, to float along in this limbo that we’ve created for ourselves, too afraid to go back, and yet too uncertain to move forward?

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