Fear as anyone knows can have some very drastic and even paralyzing effects on people. Some of our fears are justified while many for the most part are known as irrational fears. While searching online for phobias I was curious to know if there was one for a fear of God, and to my great surprise there actually is! According to a list of phobias found in the online Oxford Dictionary the fear of God is known as (you guessed it) theophobia.
For those of you interested in getting more information about this strange and irrational fear you can read a great article on it here. One of the components of theophobia is the fear of the wrath of God and not so much God himself. As a former Pentecostal fundamentalist believer I feared both God and his wrath and lived in constant dread of the idea of going to hell.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (NIV)
It was verses of scripture like the one cited above that literally put the fear of God in me. It was what kept me in line as far as obedience was concerned when it came to church officials and what I believed to be the ways of the Lord. The idea that God was watching me at all times and knew my most intimate thoughts and feelings terrified me. I felt great when I prayed and loved feeling what I believed to be the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. In a way those feelings were a way for me to gauge whether or not I was on the straight an narrow path. When I did not get those feelings I began to worry that something might be amiss.
I would pray and grovel in private to the Lord asking for him to show me if I had failed him in some way or another and to guide me towards rectifying the situation. I often debased myself in prayer reminding myself that I was nothing and that I was only alive because of God's mercy, love, and grace. I viewed myself as a servant literally and the Lord as my master.
In my world there was only good and evil and I wanted to always be on the side of what I believed to be good. I wanted to be a soldier of the Lord marching on against the legions of Satan and his influence on the world and on the lives of the billions of other humans who inhabited it. I wholly believed in spiritual warfare and saw myself as someone on the front lines for Jesus. I wanted to save the world and show as many people as I could the "truth" and how it would lead them to the salvation of their souls.
11Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12For
our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,
against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against
the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore,
take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in
the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Ephesians 6:11-13 (NIV)
Religion is a means of control and fear is its mechanism. The more extreme your beliefs and commitment the deeper the fear is imbeded in your psyche. My deconversion was a long and terrifying experience for me from the moments of first doubt to the breaking free of the last vestiges of religion in my life. Of all the struggles I had endured fear was the most powerful and the hardest to overcome. Even after I officially left the church and declared myself an agnostic at the time before transitioning to all out atheist, it took me six years to overcome the fear of God, wrath, death in sin, and finally hell.
It is my belief that everyones journey from faith to skepticism is a personal choice and is undertaken and experienced differently by us all. But at the most extreme end I think that my journey as well as those of the millions of others who have taken similar journeys were extremely difficult and taxing on our entire being. It affects us mentally, emotionally, and physically in some very harsh and unexpected ways. Again, I think that how it affects us is determined most by how devoted and commited we actually were to our beliefs.
Breaking free from religion and the accompanying irrational fears it instills in us is a process that takes time, courage, and persistence. You have to make up your mind that you want to know whether your beliefs are true and that you are willing to research its tenets and history and let it lead you to whatever conclusion it may. I personally was swayed by my beliefs after studying how the Bible was created and its history. I concluded that it was an entirely human process and invention that did not require any input or inspirations from any God or gods. Once I took down the foundation of my faith in this case the Bible then I began to work on the history of the church and the doctrines and how they came about. I read the Bible from cover to cover four times in a period of six years and the more I read the less I believed and the more I hated the image of God as presented within its pages.
In my experience the only thing that can overcome irrational fear is knowledge. Educate yourself about your beliefs. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions or to confront contradictions honestly and scrutinize them meticulously. Thank you for reading this article and I wish all of those who take this journey the best of luck and hope that they are filled with hope, courage, and curiosity sufficient enough to destroy faith and fear.