Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 57-58
As I’ve been making my way through Debi’s Created To Be His Help Meet, one question I’ve gotten from readers pretty regularly is “why do women buy into this?” Given that Debi is telling women that they must submit to their husbands in everything, this seems a pretty good question. The next several installments will be dedicated to the insidious and manipulative coercion that suffices Debi’s work.
Debi’s first four chapters were titled “God’s Gift,” “A Merry Heart,” “A Thankful Spirit,” and “Thanksgiving Produces Joy.” We have just finished chapter five, “The Gift of Wisdom.” It just so happens that the entirety of chapters six and seven, “The Beginning of Wisdom” and “Wisdom – While There Is Yet Hope,” are made up of threats aimed at making sure women know better than to question or reject Debi’s advice. This will be a theme, then, of the next four or five review installments.
Here is how Debi begins this section:
Wisdom is conceived in a strange place. It is fathered by fear.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. While this phrase may sound odd to those not raised religious, I grew up hearing it quite often. It’s actually a fairly common Christian phrase. In fact, I even grew up singing it in church.
The question, of course, is what exactly this phrase means. I grew up attending an evangelical megachurch, and the pastor there argued that “the fear of the Lord” meant being in awe of God and showing him reverence. By moving the conversation from fear to respect, “the fear of the Lord” becomes compatible with a God of love. This interpretation, however, makes Debi extremely uncomfortable.
Many Christians — even many ministers — are unwilling to speak of fear. It doesn’t sell well with a public that is lustful for pleasure. The commentators try to convince us that biblical fear is just respect for God, not real fear. Their God is like a paper cut-out with only two dimensions.
What Debi is preaching here, then, is real, palpable fear of God, not simply some concept of respecting God or being in awe of him. Given the fear-based discipline methods advocated in To Train Up A Child, I’m not surprised. What Debi is doing here is honestly and truly telling her readers that they should be afraid of God. She is – surprise surprise – interpreting “the fear of the Lord” completely and totally literally.
Yet I’m not entirely sure even Debi gets away from our “unwillingness” to talk about fear, because she immediately shifts to conversation away from fear of God and toward fear of the bad consequences our decisions can bring.
If our choices can bring us to miserable ends, then fear is the healthiest deterrent we can have. It is the beginning of wisdom. Life without fear is a fool’s paradise. What physical pain is to the preservation of the human body, fear is to the preservation of the soul.
If you believe in a literal hell and a literal heaven, and believe that our actions and decisions have spiritual consequences, what Debi is saying here makes sense. Debi suggests that fear of spiritual darkness (and the eternity of hell it leads to) is designed to keep us from making bad spiritual decisions, just like fear of pain keeps us from causing harm to our physical bodies. But there’s a missing link in this analogy. Namely, if it is Jesus who has rescued us from hell, how is fear of spiritual darkness identical to fear of the Lord? Isn’t this like saying that fear of physical sickness is fear of the doctor? Debi’s conflation of fear of spiritual darkness with fear of the Lord only makes sense if it is the doctor who is making people sick in the first place. And that should be enough to make it clear that the theology she is operating from is all sorts of messed up.
A Christian life without fear is a religious life without a living God.
I honestly have no idea what Debi is trying to say here, but what is clear is that she is unapologetic in preaching a Christianity based not on love or joy but rather on fear. Again, not surprised. After quoting three Bible passages identifying the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom, Debi continues:
Anything God says three times is worth heeding. Watch out! Much of what you will read in this book was written to put the fear of God into you.
Can I say I’m not surprised or is that getting old? Debi admits that she’s trying to scare her readers into following her advice.
I feel that if I can cause young wives to be aware that there are consequences for their actions, they may turn to God now and start sowing to the spirit, rather than to the flesh. By means of letters written to me and from real life examples, I am going to earnestly warn you about where poor choices will take you.
I want to finish by bringing in the subtitle of Debi’s previous chapter:
Do you have enough fear of God not to question his word?
After positioning herself as its proper interpreter, Debi arguing that fear of God should keep women from questioning the Bible. This abolition of questions is key to much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. If you start asking questions, your fellow religionists will start expressing concern for your salvation. Here, Debi is invoking the fear of God as a sort of threat to keep her readers from asking questions.
A pivotal moment in my own journey was when I realized that if there was a God, and if that God was the sort who would smite or cut off his followers for asking honest questions, that God was not worth serving. A truly loving and transcendent God, I realized, would not be afraid of or begrudge questions. That fearful wrathful God, though? That appears to be the God Debi worships. And unfortunately, it is the God many of her readers have been taught to worship as well.
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Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce