July 16th, 2017 3:45pm
Have you ever thought of yourself as a “God-fearing” person? Did your religious instructors ever tell you that if you did not do one ritual or another then God might punish you? Did you ever feel guilty about something you did for fear that you may have welcomed in the wrath of God? For many, my even spelling the full name God (without substituting the “o” for a “-“), is disrespectful at a level that might cause me to be punished. Most texts from the large religions have dogma that implies that if one does or does not engage in particular thought or behavior, then he or she will, surely, not receive God’s favor.
What I have learned in my lifetime, is that our primitive/animalistic nature controlled by our automatic brain causes us to fight and flee that which that brain detects as danger. Fear is the emotion tied to this reaction. When we believe, trust, and take direction from this primitive part of our nature, we can never truly know our Divine nature. That Divine nature, I believe, is our connection to God, through God’s gift to humankind—our mind. Yet, instead, we are incessantly taught to fear God.
Some of you who are reading this may not believe in God, may have a non-traditional view of God, or may believe very strongly in the monotheistic God of your faith (as I do). Actually, to understand our duality of automatic brain and mind, it does not matter at all
The way I see it, here are 7 ways to move from being God-fearing to God-loving and create a more fulfilling spiritual life.
1. Read between the lines of scripture
See if you can recognize writings that reflect humankind’s automatic brain. I discuss some of those in my blog My Ten Commandments. Much of religious scripture is man’s interpretation of what they thought God meant. This interpretation is often filled with language that calls for us to dig our heels into fearing God.
2. Always choose substance over doctrine
It’s the holiest day of the religious calendar. You’re on the way to your place of worship and you pass a person truly needing help. You’ve internalized the belief that you must be at your temple or you might be punished. For me, God is much greater than ritual and God-loving endorses substance over doctrine. Thus, being God-loving might make you miss your time in the temple, for a greater mission.
3. Never allow faith to justify hurting someone
From time immemorial, men have justified their brutality because others did not embrace their religion as the truth. In my opinion, God-fearing is more likely to condone such actions, since fear-based living is deeply rooted in our animalistic nature. Honoring and loving God would never rationalize such behavior.
4. Practice authentic gratitude
Is saying thank you to God for God’s sake or ours? Does God really need us to bow our heads, beg, plead, or say thanks? I don’t think so. We need to practice authentic gratitude in order to be truly God-loving. It humbles us, makes us more optimistic, and brings us joy. Our ability to be thankful is a gift that helps make our lives more meaningful and happy. God doesn’t need us to practice gratitude. We need it. And by doing so, it will cause us to love God more.
5. Understand that behavior punishes, not God
When a lion devours a helpless gazelle, we don’t say, “What a bad, evil lion!” We don’t because we know the lion is acting on its animal instincts. Similar, when humankind acts to hurt other humans, God is not to blame, rather it is the person or persons acting according to their automatic, primitive, animalistic brain. God doesn’t punish the lion. Nor does God punish someone following their animal instincts. The difference is that when we trust those instincts, it generally leads us to unhappy, unfulfilled, shallow, and punishing lives.
6. Act because you want to, not because you fear you’ll be punished if you don’t
It is not uncommon for a person to do something because he or she may feel guilty if they don’t. When it comes to God, we may end up “being nice” because we’re afraid that if we are not, we’ll be punished. That may lead to actions that cause resentment and takes away from the real pleasure of giving. I have a saying, “Giving without expectation leads to receiving without limitation.” If we give with the expectation that it will somehow insulate us from punishment, it, in my opinion, does not nurture our soul.
7. Be happy for happy sake
Can you love God only if circumstances are going well in your life? If life does not seem to be going well for you, are you able to be happy, anyway? Do you have a sense that you are being punished? When we are God-fearing it tends to strip away our ability to be happy, if situations are less than desirable. God-loving allows you to choose happiness despite your surroundings. The sheer acceptance that we are a part of the miracle of life is enough to serve as a foundation of happiness.
One’s spiritual health deeply affects our overall health and wellness. When the challenges of daily life start to erode our faith, it may be time to start loving God rather than fearing him.
© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD