Should We Fear The Kind And Loving God?

If God is Most Kind and Most compassionate, why should we fear Him? How does a ‘pious’ person becomes ‘God-fearing’? ‘Fear of God’ seems to be a rather complex and misunderstood concept. This is an attempt to reconcile the two seemingly opposite teachings. A not uncommon misgiving that abounds is that the “God of the Qur’an” and the “God of the Torah” is always angry, full of vengeance, and that these scriptures have used fear to subjugate followers. “Fear of God” is often a mistranslated word as I will explain here.

This misconception exists particularly among people of Abrahamic faiths . Some Muslim clerics dogmatically focus on God’s vengeance and the Day of Judgment. Instead of describing God’s kindness and mercy, or how the forgiving God will reward people for good deeds, they tend to focus more on how He will punish us for bad deeds; they remind the followers to always be on the right path, or else…!

Perhaps one of the reasons to believe that God should be “feared” is the word Taqwa, which is often translated as “to fear God.” The person who practices Taqwa is known as Muttaqi, often translated as “God fearing.” However, many others have more appropriately (and accurately) translated it as “God-conscious,” “righteous,” or “in awe of God.”

A similar parable is perhaps found in Hebrew. Arthur Kurzweil, a Jewish educator and author of multiple books, reflects upon the misuse of the word and describes this more in terms of “awesomeness” of God, rather than fear of God.

The Hebrew word Yir’at HaShem is sometimes translated as ‘fear of God’ but is better understood as ‘in awe of God.’…. In other words, the Torah teaches Torah students to serve God without an ulterior motive and to feel the awe as they serve [1]

I think in some ways, “fearing God” is similar to a loving parent-child relationship, whereby children do not want to do anything against the wishes of their parents, not because they are afraid of the parents, but out of love and respect for them. This is indeed the essence of the teachings of the scriptures. As we get to know God, we will then get close to Him, worship Him out of love, and be in awe of Him, not because of fear of Him or a fear of going to hell.

For the ones “in awe of God,” fear of hell is replaced by ‘fear’ of disobeying Him, a ‘fear’ of making Him unhappy.

“Fear” is the word used to translate many words in the Qur’an  e.g,

  • خَوْفًا- (Khawfan)He it is Who shows you the lightning causing fear and hope and (Who) brings up the heavy cloud. 13:12
  • خِيفَتِهِ-(Khifataihi)-And the thunder declares His glory with His praise, and the angels too for awe of Him.13:13
  • خَوْفٌ (Khawfun)-Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve. 2:62
  • يَخْشَوْنَ (Yakhshawna) (For) those who fear their Lord in secret and they are fearful of the hour. 21:49

In the last verse (21:49), some translators have used “in reverence” rather than “fear”.

Kind and Loving God

Muslims often talk about the “99 names of Allah” with great reverence. Those who preach God’s vengeance seem to forget that by far the most often-repeated attributes of God in the Qur’an are al Rahman (the Most Compassionate) and al Rahim(the Most Merciful) .

All chapters of the Qur’an, except chapter 9 start with the verse, bismillah al-Rahman al Rahim (In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful).

The root for these words of compassion and mercy is rahm or the mother’s womb. So all but one chapter of the Qur’an begins with this powerful feminine sense of God’s mercy and compassion for all his children and all of creation.[2]

Muslims are encouraged to recite the verse “In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful,” whenever they begin a task—when leaving home for work, on starting a journey, or during take-off when flying. The message is not just that Muslims are to remember God in their everyday life but to serve as a reminder that God wants us to remember Him as the Most Kind and the Most Merciful. God could have chosen many of His other attributes, for example, “In the name of God, the Almighty,” or “In the name of God, the All-Knowing,” or “In the name of God, the Creator,” and so on.

Here are few other attributes of God in the Qur’an that reflects Kindness and Mercy directly or indirectly.

  • Al-Wadud: The Loving One
  • Al-Ghaffar: The Forgiving
  • Al-Ghafur: The Forgiver and the Hider of Faults
  • Al-Karim: The Most Generous
  • Al-Wali: The Protecting Friend
  • Al-Afu: The Forgiver
  • Al-Rau’f: The Clement (Lenient)/Kind
  • Al-Salam: The Source of Peace
  • Al-Mujib: The Responder (to Prayers)

The following verses serve as a very small sample alluding to the love, kindness, and mercy of God:

And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving-Kindness. 85:14

And there is the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is full of kindness to (His) devotees. 2:207

Our Lord! You are indeed full of Kindness, Most Merciful. 59:10

The Kind and Loving God in the Bible

The Old Testament too has been a target of same type of criticism: “The God of the Old Testament is harsh and full of vengeance, and the God of New Testament is loving and kind.” Once again, reading the scripture, it becomes clear that the God of these scriptures indeed has the same attributes, for He is the same God. These few quotes cannot do justice to the immense subject of God’s love, and do not substitute a complete review of the texts:

Nevertheless in Your great Mercy, You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, Gracious and Merciful. Nehemiah 9:31

How precious is Your loving Kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 36:7

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God, for He is Merciful and Compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:13

 Take home message for Interfaith (and other) encounters

If we are looking for one common denominator for people of faith, its got to be the compassion. The Qur’an and the Bible teach us that we were created in God’s image and as his Khalifa or vicegerents (representatives), and what better attribute to represent God than to show compassion for each other.

 

This is an adaptation of the chapter “God is Kind and Loving” from my last book, The Three Abrahamic Testaments-How the Torah, Gospels and Qur’an Hold The Keys To Healing Our Fears.

[1] Kurzweil, The Torah for Dummies, p. 30.

[2] Sells, Approaching the Qur’an, p. 21.

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