Paul makes an interesting command concerning our attention:
Philippians 4:8–9 (ESV)
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
While not directly referencing this passage, William Spurtowe provided an illustration of the subjective effect of our attention. If we are not thinking on “these things” our attention will be the opposite direction. The effect that will be fear and depression:
Are not these genuine thoughts for a man to conceive that it is with him and with every Christian as it is with those who walk with their faces towards the sun, the dark shadow behind them; but when they turn from the sun, it forthwith changes its place comes before them. When they travel with their facts to the Sun of Righteousness, their paths are full of light and comfort; but when they turn from him, what dark images of death. What ghastly apparitions of hell and destruction go before them every step they tread. Yea, the further they wander from God, how does their terror increase, and their fears multiply, which are stretched out like the shadows of evening, until at length they be swallowed up in the black darkness of night?
Summary: In this stanza, the poet speaks of how painful it is for him to write these mediatory poems. If he had access to David’s greater gift, he would use it.
General Notes: What a remarkable introduction to a poem. The grace of God is both a wrack and screw. These implements of torture were in actual use by the English government (of which Taylor was a subject, even though he lived in the New England) at the time was written.
This does make an interesting discussion of Taylor’s creative process: He is faced with an extraordinary good. He finds himself compelled to translate the beauty with which he is faced into poetry.
However, this process has two effects upon him. As has been the case many of the meditations, the contemplation of the grace of God causes in him an overwhelming sense of his own unworthiness and sinfulness.
In this poem he references a related though distinct response: Here he finds himself inadequate to the process. He is unable to adequately make the translation.
The compulsion to write, to sense of sin and the inability to match the original he experiences like an implement of torture. In fact, when it comes to actual creation of the poem, the process is a torment, because he is the one operating the screw.
These responses are interestingly not inconsistent with the biblical account.
This coming into knowing contact with the holy has a profound effect. Consider two stories of the disciples making a realization of the true nature of Jesus:
Luke 5:1–10 (AV)
1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. 3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. 7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: 10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
Or in Mark 4, when Jesus stills the storm:
Mark 4:40–41 (AV)
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
But more to the point in this particular stanza are two instances from the prophet Jeremiah. In chapter 20, the prophet has determined that he will no longer speak because it has become too painful for him:
Jeremiah 20:7–9 (AV)
7 O LORD, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. 8 For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. 9 Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
And the Lord speaking to the prophet:
Jeremiah 23:29 (AV)
29 Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
The pain of the first three gives way to an expression: First, there is tuning (line 4) and then striking the music on chimes (line 5). What we have with the poem before us is the tune struck out on chimes.
The only adequate response to such grace would be found in a heavenly access ot David’s prophetic poetry. Only in heaven could there be sufficient skill and language for this task.
The stanza used is a quatrain of iambic pentameter followed by a couplet. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC.
The effect of the first three lines is striking:
Thy grace, dear Lord’s my golden wrack, I find
Screwing my fancy into ragged rhymes,
Tuning thy praises in my feeble mind
Until I come to strike them on my chimes.
There are two pauses in the first line, one after the first foot (thy grace) and at the last foot (I find). By using two pauses and breaking at the last foot, the words “I find” are joined to the second line. The second and third lines begin with an accented syllable. The iamb at the end of line one followed the accented first syllable in line two drives the poem along, almost as if it were falling downstairs.
By repeating the accent on the first syllable of the third line, it creates a parallel structure. Screwing: tuning.
What is interesting with the second verb is we move from torment to music: It is as the poem begins with the tuning.
The end rhythms of the second and third lines also match: RAGged RHYMES/FEEble MIND.
Since all end rhymes contain a long “I”, (find/rhyme/mind/chimes) there are full and near rhymes on every line.
The final couplet work similar to the couplet in a Shakespearean sonnet: there is a discontinuance and comment in the couplet upon that which proceeds.
Here he moves from the discussion of his own creative process to an aside of what could be: If I were David, if I were an angel, this would be better.
Short version: It’s not just the idea, but the anxiety produced by the idea, which gives rise to an increase in thoughts of death. If I tell you your worldview is stupid and you don’t care, you don’t have increased thoughts of death. But if you take my “you’re stupid and so’s your worldview” to heart and feel anxious, you’ll have increased thoughts of death. If you have increased thoughts of death, you try to defend your worldview from attack.
Longer version: Terror Management Theory proposes that when we are confronted with thoughts of death, we seek to (1) shore up our self-esteem, and (2) our worldview. For example, an atheist confronted with death can say, I won’t know I’m dead so there is no reason to fear death. A Muslim can say, I will be resurrected to Paradise, so I have no need to fear death. When I thinks about death, they can think about their response to death.
When confronted with some information which undercuts their worldview, (say, there is a god, or Muhammed was not a true prophet), research shows that the victim (or test-subject, depending upon your point-of-view) has more thoughts about death (DTA death-thought accessibility).
Since thoughts of death produce anxiety, human beings seek for ways to relieve that anxiety (anxiety being unpleasant). Researchers have noted two basic mechanisms, first were used to relieve the anxiety. The immediate response is to distract oneself or otherwise try to ignore the information). Then, after a passage of time and as thought the immediate thoughts of death fade, one begins to various “distal defenses” are brought to bear. The victim seeks to shore-up their symbolic mechanism to deal with death.
The research has primarily dealt with the thoughts of death, not the emotion of anxiety. A study published 2014 sought to examine the emotive functions.
The study sought to produce anxiety in Protestant Christian undergraduate students. They were told that the they were testing how a drink effected memory. Some of the students were told the drink contained caffeine and would them “jittery,” others were told it was a vitamin drink.
The reason for the two different drinks has to do with “attribution of arousal manipulation.” The students who drank the “caffeine” might attribute their anxiety to the drink and not to the article challenging their beliefs.
The students were given an article which challenged their religious beliefs (Jesus is the same as Krishna or Mithra or Horus). A control group read an article on the northern lights.
The next phase asked the students to complete words . So they were given coff–. Do they write “coffee” or “coffin”? The reason for this section to was both assess their thoughts of death and to give time for the “distal defenses” to engage.
The final phase as the students to evaluate their article – did it make you angry? How smart was the author?
When the students were given the “caffeine”, there was a marginal tendency to attribute their anxiety to caffeine and to have fewer “death-related” thoughts than the vitamin drink group. The students with the vitamin drink did experience more death related thoughts when having their religious beliefs attacked.
Not surprisingly, the students who read the attacking article had greater emotional response than those who read the article on the northern lights.
But since the researchers had given an introductory questionnaire on death related thoughts, they wanted to make sure that initial questionnaire did not poison their results.
They performed a very similar test. But this time they gave the students an opportunity to set bail for a prostitute. The thinking was that death-related thoughts would lead to more protection for their worldview, which would lead to higher bail amounts.
The surmise was true.
Here is what the researchers believed was significant in these tests: When the student attributed their anxiety to the caffeine they did not seek to protect their world view. It seems that when they blamed the drink for their anxiety it acted to protect them from thinking further about death.
A third test was premised upon this idea: Humans protect ourselves from thoughts of death by distinguishing ourselves from other animals. Therefore, we experience disgust when someone eats strange food, defects on the living room floor or commits incest, because it reminds us that we are animals; reminding ourselves that we are animals, reminds that we can die like animals. Therefore, we feel disgust in those circumstances.
You don’t need to take that explanation for why we experience disgust when someone decides to imitate a dog in your apartment.
The third experiment sought to determine the extent to which misattribution could apply to disgust.
And so we come to a test which I am glad I did not have to experience. The students were going to be subjected to viewing a number of gross pictures, someone vomiting, urine, feces, snot, a dirty toilet, a bloody finger. These apparently makes us think we are animals.
All the students were given an essay to read. One essay said, you’re just animal. The other essay had nothing to do with animals.
All the students were given instructions on viewing the pictures. Some were told to view the pictures carefully. Others were given specific instructions to take a “detached and unemotional attitude.” They were to be clinical and unfeeling as they examined the pictures.
After looking at the pictures, they were examined for disgust.
The students were instructed to have clinical detachment when viewing the pictures had fewer death-related thoughts after viewing them.
And so again, an increase a serious negative emotion increased one’s thought of death.
Here was the upshot:
Our findings suggest that threatening material will only increase DTA when that material is experienced as emotionally unsettling.
Webber, D., Schimel, J., Faucher, E.H. et al. “Emotion as a necessary component of threat-induced death thought accessibility and defensive compensation.” Motiv Emot 39, 142–155 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-014-9426-1.
What precisely takes place is unclear.
This research reminds me of some research I did in college on the grotesque in literature. There is a theory that we are attracted to disturbing things in art because it allows us to focus our existing anxiety on a point and attribute our anxiety on that artwork (rather than on some other matter which may be disturbing me.
There is an important consideration here for persuasion study. Persuasion functions by creating some sort of dis-ease, some anxiety and a proffered means of resolution. You see the car, you want the car: anxiety. You can buy the car: resolution.
If the creation of anxiety generally has a tendency to increase thoughts of death – and thus thoughts of protection of my worldview – this creates a certain complication. The research showed only a “marginal” decrease in death related thoughts when the anxiety could be attributed to the caffeine drink.
If we seek to create a powerful persuasive movement, we have the potential for creating greater anxiety and thus increased death related thoughts. An increase in death related thoughts comes along with protection of one’s worldview.
Thus, a powerful persuasive move have the wind at its back if the persuasion accords with one’s worldview. But, an attempt to make a strong persuasive move (by generating a great deal of anxiety at first) will have a headwind if that persuasive move is contrary to the worldview.
This does not mean that the issue under persuasive pressure is distinctly a facet of the worldview; only that it can be concordant or discordant with a worldview.
There is a sort of paradox which lies at the heart of the Christian’s apprehension of God. We are told to love God and trust God. But we are also told to fear God. Psalm 2 contains the strange command:
Psalm 2:11 (ESV)
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
How is that possible: fear and trembling are quite different than the command to rejoice. But this paradox of joy and fear, coming near and trembling is a basic theme of the Scripture:
Isaiah 66:1–2 (ESV)
The Humble and Contrite in Spirit
66 Thus says the LORD:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
How then do we desire that we fear? Augustine helps provide some information here:
Because human desires must be transformed and reoriented in order to long for God rightly, desire for God, according to Augustine, does not provide an unambiguous sense of pleasure, at least not while we are still on our earthly pilgrimage. For Augustine, the cultivation of the desire for God and the commitment to a process of reorientation to God do not immediately produce unadulterated joy. God does not promptly ravish the soul with exquisite bliss and comfort. Imaging the beauty and truth of God as a light that attracts the soul, Augustine writes: “What is the light which shines right through me and strikes my heart without hurting? It fills me with terror and burning love: with terror in so far as I am utterly other than it, with burning love in that I am akin to it.”19 The terror is due to the perception of the dissimilarity of the soul and the holy God, coupled with the recognition that God is drawing the soul into a potentially painful process of transformation. The exhilaration of seeking the eternal is qualified by the bittersweet disclosure of God’s difference from the unworthy soul.20 A kind of fear arises as one becomes aware of one’s need for God and one’s own insufficiency. Although Augustine often describes God as the soul’s true source and destination, he also portrays divinity and humanity as being two sides of a chasm. God’s immeasurable magnitude can appear so vast that it intimidates the soul. At the same time that it intimidates, the phenomenon of desire for God contains within it the extravagant prospect that the soul, though unlike God, has the possibility to become (in some respects) like God. This transformation into godliness necessarily involves the daunting imperative to reorient one’s life away from lesser attachments and to become a new creature, defined by one central love. Consequently, the desire for God both promises absolute fulfillment but also requires the renunciation of cherished aspects of the old worldly self.
Barrett, Lee C.. Eros and Self-Emptying(Kierkegaard as a Christian Thinker) (pp. 74-75). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition. (Incidentally, this has been a fascinating book so far. If you have any interest in Augustine or Kierkegaard, it is well worth the time.) This fear reminds me of the line in Rilke, Beauty is beginning of terror.
Thomas Watson explains that there are two types of fear:
There is a twofold fear.
1. A filial fear; when a man fears to displease God; when he fears lest he should not hold out, this is a good fear; ‘Blessed is he that fears alway;’ if Peter had feared his own heart, and said, Lord Jesus, I fear I shall forsake thee, Lord strengthen me, doubtless Christ would have kept him from falling.
2. There is a cowardly fear; when a man fears danger more than sin; when he is afraid to be good, this fear is an enemy to suffering. God proclaimed that those who were fearful should not go to the wars, Deut. 20:8. The fearful are unfit to fight in Christ’s wars; a man possessed with fear, doth not consult what is best, but what is safest. If he may save his estate, he will snare his conscience, Prov. 29:25. ‘In the fear of man there is a snare.’ Fear made Peter deny Christ; Abraham equivocate, David feign himself mad; fear will put men upon indirect courses, making them study rather compliance than conscience. Fear makes sin appear little, and suffering great, the fearful man sees double, he looks upon the cross through his perspective twice as big as it is; fear argues sordidness of spirit, it will put one upon things most ignoble and unworthy; a fearful man will vote against his conscience; fear infeebles, it is like the cutting off Samson’s locks; fear melts away the courage, Josh. 5:1. ‘Their hearts melt because of you;’ and when a man’s strength is gone, he is very unfit to carry Christ’s cross; fear is the root of apostasy. Spira’s fear made him abjure and recant his religion; fear doth one more hurt than the adversary; it is not so much an enemy without the castle, as a traitor within indangers it; it is not so much sufferings without, as traitorous fear within which undoes a man; a fearful man is versed in no posture so much as in retreating; oh take heed of this, be afraid of this fear, Luke 12:4. ‘Fear not them that can kill the body.’ Persecutors can but kill that body which must shortly die; the fearful are set in the fore-front of them that shall go to hell, Rev. 21:8. Let us get the fear of God into our hearts; as one wedge drives out another, so the fear of God will drive out all other base fear.
Thomas Watson, “Discourses upon Christ’s Sermon on the Mount,” in Discourses on Important and Interesting Subjects, Being the Select Works of the Rev. Thomas Watson, vol. 2 (Edinburgh; Glasgow: Blackie, Fullarton, & Co.; A. Fullarton & Co., 1829), 368–370. I agree with Watson, but I think he misses something which the quotation on Augustine grasps: There is an ontological basis of fear. There is a fear sprung from the utter otherness of God.
When the disciples are in the boat and Jesus calms the storm, they wonder what sort of man this is. The otherness of Jesus causes them to fear. They were not afraid that Jesus was going to hurt them; he had just saved their lives. They were afraid of his mere presence.
This helps understand Paul’s line that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” We need an ontological transformation to be able to bear we are going.
The Great Divorce has a seen which captures some of this matter. When the insubstantial beings from hell come to heaven even the grass is too substantial, too real to bear:
As the solid people came nearer still I noticed that they were moving with order and determination as though each of them had marked his man in our shadowy company. ‘There are going to be affecting scenes,’ I said to myself. ‘Perhaps it would not be right to look on.’ With that, I sidled away on some vague pretext of doing a little exploring. A grove of huge cedars to my right seemed attractive and I entered it. Walking proved difficult. The grass, hard as diamonds to my unsubstantial feet, made me feel as if I were walking on wrinkled rock, and I suffered pains like those of the mermaid in Hans Andersen. A bird ran across in front of me and I envied
Lewis, C. S.. The Great Divorce (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 25). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. If the mere grass will overwhelm our feet, what would the sight of the King do to our sight? And how utterly dangerous and other is God to us now.
The quotation below is from Philip K Dick’s Through a Scanner Darkly. The work is an extended meditation of identity and paranoia; not for the faint of heart. In this section the protagonist is trying to determine whether he is really being targeted by someone for something:
One of the most effective forms of industrial or military sabotage limits itself to damage that can never be thoroughly proven—or even proven at all—to be anything deliberate. It is like an invisible political movement; perhaps it isn’t there at all. If a bomb is wired to a car’s ignition, then obviously there is an enemy; if a public building or a political headquarters is blown up, then there is a political enemy. But if an accident, or a series of accidents, occurs, if equipment merely fails to function, if it appears faulty, especially in a slow fashion, over a period of natural time, with numerous small failures and misfirings—then the victim, whether a person or a party or a country, can never marshal itself to defend itself.
Still moving about alertly with his gun, Barris ignored him as he sought to discover telltale traces. Arctor, watching, thought, Maybe he will. They may have left some. And he thought, Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then, briefly. Under very specialized conditions, such as today.
It reminds me of the line from William Burroughs, Paranoia is having all the facts.
The current terror about a virus, unseen; of unknown danger (is it terrible or mild) seems to stir up a similar fear. We live in a world which pretends to have tamed and managed death. And yet here it is again. It wanders about at its leisure like a virulent man of wealth and ease.
It has provoked paranoid and panicked responses. The paranoia of Did I really see that?
And so I wonder, how we’ll have those fears been packed away? Were they just waiting for an opportunity to come out? How easily will they be returned? How firmly will paranoia link up with reality?
What does a culture like ours offer for the fear of death? What happens when do many become paranoid at one time?
In a sermon entitled “The Happiness of Fearing Alway,” Thomas Boston spoke of the need to fear oneself:
Happy is he that feareth alway with respect to himself. Every man is his own nearest neighbour, and so his worst enemy is nearest to him. Happy is the man that keeps a jealous eye over himself. “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things that thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.” And there are four things about yourselves which you have need to fear; to be jealous over them, and circumspect about them, lest you offend God in them and by them.
Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sermons, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 3 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 7.
We should fear our heads, our hearts, our tongues, our senses.
We should fear our heads, lest we become prey to bad ideas, “God is a God of truth as well as holiness. There are soul ruining principles as well as practices.” There were bad ideas infecting minds in Boston’s day, but I’m willing to venture that we have increased the stock of soul-destroying concepts. We should be willing to question what we know or think.
We should fear our hearts: “The heart is the principle of action as the eye is the light of the body. Great need then is there for the heart to be pure. O! what need to entertain this holy fear with respect to the heart; for it is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. If you would have the streams pure you must look well to the fountain.”
Our heart too easily and too willingly fastens upon the wrong objects, upon those thing which debase and shame. Conversely, godly affections too easily dissipate, “Good affections are tender buds of heaven easily checked and made to wither; and bad ones like ill weeds grow apace.”
We should fear our tongues. “It is dangerous to ride on an unbridled horse, and equally dangerous to have an unbridled tongue.” More damage has been wrought by the tongue than by hand; often the worst acts of violence are stirred up by the tongue. And the tongue has destroyed countless lives before death has taken the body.
We should fear our senses. At this point Boston sounds very much like John Bunyan in The Holy War: the senses are gates to a city, and thus the means which Satan gains entrance to the heart: “These are the gates of the soul, and when the town is besieged, there must be strict watch kept at the gates. Satan lays his trains at these gates, and if we do not take good heed, the whole soul may be set on fire. By the eyes and the ears, did the devil blow up all mankind in Adam and Eve.”
The graces of the Spirit work for good. Grace is to the soul, as light to the eye, as health to the body. Grace does to the soul, as a virtuous wife to her husband, “She will do him good all the days of her life.” Prov. 31:12. How incomparably useful are the graces! Faith and fear go hand in hand; faith keeps the heart cheerful, fear keeps the heart serious; faith keeps the heart from sinking in despair, fear keeps it from floating in presumption; all the graces display themselves in their beauty: hope is the helmet, 1 Thess. 5:8. meekness “the ornament,” 1 Pet. 3:4. love “the bond of perfectness,” Col. 3:14. The saints’ graces are weapons to defend them, wings to elevate them, jewels to enrich them, spices to perfume them, stars to adorn them, cordials to refresh them: and does not all this work for good? The graces are our evidences for heaven; is it not good to have our evidences at the hour of death?
Thomas Watson, A Divine Cordial; The Saint’s Spiritual Delight; The Holy Eucharist; and Other Treatises, The Writings of the Doctrinal Puritans and Divines of the Seventeenth Century (The Religious Tract Society, 1846), 17–18.
Of the manifold mischiefs caused by the fear of man
Fear of man is one cause which causes one to reject coming to faith, “Many thousands of souls are thereby kept back from a true and thorough repentance and conversion; because they do not suffer the knowledge of the truth, the brightness whereof hath in some degree enlightened them, to shine forth in its full strength, but hold it, as it were, imprisoned by manifold hypocritical shifts and pretences.”
Fear of man also limits one’s growth in godliness, because one is afraid of what others may say or do. “Many know not what the reason is why they make such slow advances in their spiritual growth, when all this while the enemy, that is, the fear of man, secretly lurks within, and eats out, as it were, the very vigour and activity of the life of grace; though they take him for their best friend, supposing this fearfulness to be nothing else but wisdom and prudence.”
Fear of man and continual opposition may cause a minister to lose heart and thus perform their office. Fearfulness in one encourages fearfulness in others. And so two fearful ministers in one place, may cause a great deal of mischief. Those who are brought upon under such ministry will resemble their minister, as a child does a parent. Such ministers also rob others by distracting them away from ministers who could more profit their soul.
And those who are wicked take courage when they see the righteous fearful.
Fear of man causes many to refuse to be an open gospel witness to those who have power and position.
“The fear of man is always for maintaining old customs; and whilst every one is afraid of innovation, all abuses are thereby more and more authorized, so that all things proceed continually from bad to worse, because nothing is reformed or amended.”
A fearful man cannot act in faith on God, because, “a fearful man trusts God no further than his reason reaches and carries him.” He certainly will not trust God to protect him. By rejecting faith in God, we reject God’s blessing which is bestowed upon the faithful who receive them in faith. A fearful heart can receive no true communion or spiritual blessing from God; rather, such a fearful man is also plagued by a bad conscience.
“St. James saith, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you,” ch. 4:7.: and the reverse of it is full as true; for the more we give way to the devil and his instruments out of fear, the more they pursue and press upon us. Men might rid themselves of many troubles, could they but resignedly rely upon the authority of their function, and boldly perform what God hath commanded them. If we neglect this, it is no wonder if the devil insult us.”
Tolkien here draws together two ideas which Gimili naively thinks to be exclusive of one-another. This is similar to Lewis’ comment that the lion is good and dangerous. The lion is certainly not safe.
The source of this idea is God himself. God is good, perfectly good. God is love. Who has ever been more kind than Christ? And yet God is very dangerous; more dangerous than anything we could imagine: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
It is a simplistic concept to think that danger and good are separate.
This helps a bit understand the tension in Christianity that we are to love God, trust God, put our hope in God – fear God.
In considering the matter of the fear of God/gods and human response, Thucydides has an interesting observation in Book II The Peloponnesian War. He is describing a circumstance of people flooding into the city of Athens. He first describes the breakdown in public order:
An aggravation of the existing calamity was the influx from the country into the city, and this was especially felt by the new arrivals.  As there were no houses to receive them, they had to be lodged at the hot season of the year in stifling cabins, where the mortality raged without restraint. The bodies of dying men lay one upon another, and half-dead creatures reeled about the streets and gathered round all the fountains in their longing for water.  The sacred places also in which they had quartered themselves were full of corpses of persons that had died there, just as they were; for as the disaster passed all bounds, men, not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane.  All the burial rites before in use were entirely upset, and they buried the bodies as best they could. Many from want of the proper appliances, through so many of their friends having died already, had recourse to the most shameless sepultures: sometimes getting the start of those who had raised a pile, they threw their own dead body upon the stranger’s pyre and ignited it; sometimes they tossed the corpse which they were carrying on the top of another that was burning, and so went off.
The breakdown in public order led to a breakdown in moral order:
  Nor was this the only form of lawless extravagance which owed its origin to the plague. Men now coolly ventured on what they had formerly done in a corner, and not just as they pleased, seeing the rapid transitions produced by persons in prosperity suddenly dying and those who before had nothing succeeding to their property.  So they resolved to spend quickly and enjoy themselves, regarding their lives and riches as alike things of a day.  Perseverance in what men called honor was popular with none, it was so uncertain whether they would be spared to attain the object; but it was settled that present enjoyment, and all that contributed to it, was both honorable and useful.
He then addresses the issue of fear as a restraint upon human behavior:
 Fear of gods or law of man there was none to restrain them. As for the first, they judged it to be just the same whether they worshipped them or not, as they saw all alike perishing; and for the last, no one expected to live to be brought to trial for his offences, but each felt that a far severer sentence had been already passed upon them all and hung ever over their heads, and before this fell it was only reasonable to enjoy life a little.
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (Medford, MA: London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton, 1910).
This is interesting not just for the observation about the relationship between fear and restraint (why not do whatever I desire when it makes no difference in terms of punishment), but also the matter of “faith” in gods/God. I wrote a couple of days ago about the question of a crisis of faith following a great loss.
This people are experiencing a crisis of faith and have become atheists in practice if not in theory. They are living as if there is no divine judgment. Since it is the duty of a god to protect me from the vicissitudes of life, what is the point of faithful relationship to the god, if the god will not protect me from this world. That idea is so deeply engrained in us, that we effectively believe – even among professing Christians – that if some difficulty befalls us, that we God has failed.
But Christianity sees trouble as ultimately stemming from a decision of God. In a polytheistic society, there are multiple divine agents. Thus, one should worship the god/goddess who best be able to protect and advance my interests among the other gods. To get across the sea, it does little to have the help of a god who has no power over the water.
They gave up on worship, because the gods could no longer sustain their duty of protection. Gods operate like politicians who can get votes only so long as they have the capacity to provide some benefit. And that benefit must be immediate and tangible.
Why then would God fail to deliver to protect one against trouble. If there is trouble, why not a judgment upon Egypt which does not touch Goshen?
The promise is not a delivery in this age, but a delivery from this age:
Galatians 1:1–5 (ESV)
1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The obvious rationale to permit trial in this age is that trial in this age sets our hope elsewhere. The book of Ecclesiastes begins with the observation that this world is utterly vain – it will not persist nor will it satisfy. The book ends with the admonition:
Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 (ESV)
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
This is interesting, because it is so countercultural. The disposition described by Thucydides is the human default: The job of a god is to protect me from the vanity of this world. If the god fails in that task, there is no basis to fear that god. But Ecclesiastes says: The world is in fact vain. But the vanity of the world should lead to the conclusion to in fact fear God.
But there is also a coherence between Thucydides and Ecclesiastes, the gods of the Athenians could not fulfill their promise. They were “hired” to do a job, which they could not do. Like the Egyptian gods systematically destroyed the plagues, the Athenian gods were shown to be no gods.