THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 11, September, 1963
(Pages 301-306; Size: 17K)
(Number 4 of a 9-part series)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
FEAR OF GOD
[Part 2 of 2--Conclusion]
A PORTION of present psychological unrest, at least, may be traceable to a distorted concept of Deity. There is an old saying that "the corruption of the best produces the worst," which, in our present study, would seem to suggest that if men's ideas about God and religion are off the true, then everything is probably "off" proportionately. Whether the distortion is due to the original scriptures themselves, to the half-taught disciples and Church Fathers who were left to carry on the tradition, to the translators who admittedly experienced great difficulty in finding English equivalents for Greek and Hebrew terms, or to ourselves, will probably have to be left to future historians or to each individual to decide. Is it not reasonable to assume, however, that at least a portion of the fault rests with the language, and also with the fact that few so-called religious people of any creed are really serious students of their texts?
Where is the sincere Christian or Jew of this day, for example, who has given prolonged thought to the question of why it is that the term "God," as used in the first chapter of Genesis, changes abruptly and without apparent reason into the "Lord God" of the second chapter? How many have taken time to look into the derivations and possibly unsuspected meanings of such original Hebrew words as El, Elohim, and Elyon --the latter being translated in the Bible as "the Most High," or El-Shaddai, rendered "God Almighty?" How many are aware of the fact that in the first sentence of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Elohim, there translated "God," is a plural term?
In the Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance (p. 147) it is written: "ELOHIM is a plural name, but the plural seems to be 'intensive,' and often implies 'fulness of might.' It occurs more than 2,500 times, and is always rendered God in the English versions." Nothing is here said of the fact, however, that if the first sentence of Chapter I of Genesis were made to read, as it obviously should: "In the beginning the Elohim [plural] created the heaven and the earth," the Bible teaching on cosmogenesis would then be in full accord with Buddhist, Brahmin and Zoroastrian cosmogonies, with the teaching of the early Christian Gnostics, and also with both ancient and modern Theosophy! For each of these old scriptures postulates Hosts of intelligent Powers and Forces, which in their totality are the Demiurgos, the collective "Creator" of the Universe. In the effort to make of their Deity "the one and only living God," to the exclusion of all others (as though there could ever be more than one Absolute Deity in the Universe, any more than the one Universal Space can ever be divided or chopped up into parts), the Christian sectarians, entrusted with the work of translation, have not only disfigured their own Sacred Scriptures, but have made of God a person, necessarily limited, and created in the likeness of their own fancies -- a sorry caricature indeed of the "Most High."
The age-old dispute between monotheism, the teaching that there is but one Deity in the Universe, and polytheism, or the idea of a plurality of gods, still remains unsettled. Judaism and Christianity, of course, hold to the former -- though there is obviously as much support in the Bible for the one as for the other. Is it possible that both of these theologies may be true? Might it be that just as there is the One Universal Ocean -- which is the source from which the many smaller bodies of water have come and must return -- so, perchance, there is the One Supreme God, which is the Source and Sustainer of every power, force, or Being that ever was, is, or shall be? The philosophical idea of "the One and the Many," or of Unity in Diversity, is as old as thinking mankind. And this teaching is the only one, it would seem, that is consistent throughout with both reason and logic, and with the biblical doctrine of "The Most High God." For how can there be a Most High God without other lesser deities to give the superlative its value?The Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords. (Deut. 10:17.)The teaching of the One and the Many, then, is manifestly present seem to have made little or no distinction between them. Merging in the Bible. But the divines who undertook the work of translation all deities, high and low, into one, and fastening the attributes and qualities of all the inferior angels and demons upon the One Unchanging Reality, they have only succeeded in confusing men's minds. By what sort of mental gymnastics is one to understand, for example, how a Deity which "changes not" (Mal. 3:6), is "incorruptible" (Rom. 1:23), which is "eternal, immortal, invisible" (I Tim. 1:17 ), can be synonymous with a God who is by turns wrathful, angry, repentant and pleased? How can such finite feelings as love, hate, and anger be ascribed to THAT which is infinite and omnipresent?
There be gods many, and lords many, but to us there is but one God, the Father. (I Cor. 8:5-6.)
The teaching of present-day Theosophy is in full accord with the Hindu, Greek, and early Christian ideas about "gods many and lords many," but it postulates as its first fundamental proposition the One Supreme Deity above all. The latter, Theosophy holds, is Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable, on which all speculation is impossible. Like shoreless Space itself, this One Supreme transcends the power of human conception and can only be dwarfed by any human expression or similitude. It is beyond the range and reach of thought -- in the words of Mandukya, "unthinkable and unspeakable."
Nor is it to the credit of Western nations that their "just and living God," instead of being made the "guardian of eternal Law," as with the Hindu Deity, has been fashioned into an unpredictable being of caprice. Solomon makes the promise that "the righteous is delivered from trouble" (Prov. 11:8), and that "He who walks in integrity walks securely." (Prov. 10:9.) But how many individuals are really convinced of the truthfulness of these words? How many people trust their Deity as faithfully and as completely as they trust, for example, the unchanging Laws of Nature? How many are there, brought up in the Christian and Jewish tradition, who do not endow their God with the right and the power to put aside the Law, and to strike down, if such is his pleasure, whomsoever and whatsoever he will? Because God has all power, they say, and is accountable to no one -- not even to the inviolable Laws of the Universe -- he can do whatsoever he pleases. He can bring floods and earthquakes, pestilences and epidemics. He can cause the ocean to overflow its shores and droughts to scorch the face of the land. He can destroy cities, as was done in early Judaic times, and he can bring to naught the honest labors of man. All this -- if we understand the minds of the faithful correctly -- outside of Law, and for no other reason than that such is "the will of God"! Is it any wonder that the hearts and minds of the religious can be ravaged by feelings of insecurity, and that fear of God, instead of being salutary and uplifting, became coarse, degrading and cold?
It is not so many years ago that some individuals labored under the delusion that when they became ill, it was God, the Father, who was the cause of their affliction; that for some reason, known only to the "Most High," they were being thus punished.We stand bewildered before the mystery of our own making and the riddles of life that we will not solve, and then accuse the great Sphinx of devouring us. But verily there is not an accident in our lives, not a misshapen day or a misfortune, that could not be traced back to our own doing in this or another life. (H. P. Blavatsky.)This is the oriental doctrine of Karma, the teaching of the One Supreme Law of the Universe which, in the words of Solomon (Ps. 62:12), "renderest to every man according to his work." In The Secret Doctrine I (p. 152), H. P. Blavatsky makes the statement that "Deity is Law, and vice versâ," which would seem to imply that God and Karma are really one. But Karma, it is said, neither punishes nor rewards; it only adjusts effect to cause, bringing to each the exact results of his own actions -- in the process of which adjustment the individuals and nations upon whom it operates experience pleasure or pain. Its one decree, say the books, is that justice, harmony, and equilibrium shall be restored.
In the opinion of the Theosophist, it is the element of caprice in such an imagined Deity that has injured both Judaism and Christianity and has transformed the higher, spiritual quality of respect for God, which should give strength, courage, and understanding, into a lower manasic state of terror before all life. It is because of the disconnection of Deity from Law, in men's minds, and the belief that no one can know what God might do -- when he might decide to strike -- that men lack the courage to stand on principles, and to say with Solomon (Ps. 27:1): "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" Although fire may either heal or kill, construct or destroy, it is essentially beneficent, and can always be depended upon to act in an orderly and a lawful way.
Fire, which is purely impersonal, never evinces any intent to harm. Why is it not equally reasonable to assume that God, who is likewise "no respecter of persons," never evinces any intent to either punish or reward? In either case, when one gets burnt or reaps misfortune, it is the individual himself, by placing himself in the path of the just, though compassionate, Law -- who is to blame. "God," said St. Paul (Heb. 12:29), "is a consuming fire." Those who question the impersonal and lawful nature of Deity, and who cling to the belief that God capriciously metes out deserts, good and bad, without regard of merit, might do well to re-consider Paul's further unequivocal words on the subject (Gal. 6:7): "Be not deceived. God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." Those sincere Christians who, in the light of this verse, still wish to ascribe their good and ill fortunes to the "will of God," are entitled, of course, to their views. But to the Theosophist, who is a student of comparative religion, the foregoing verses are evidence of the universality of the doctrine of Karma, and of the old Theosophical view that all great religions have sprung from a common Source.
At few places in any of the world's scriptures is the idea of compensation, or Karma, more clearly set forth, perhaps, than in the book of Jeremiah -- though not there called by that name. In almost every instance of punishment (see chapters five through nine), after stating the offense of the people, the Lord says: "therefore" shall your retribution be thus and so -- the term therefore seeming clearly to connect the penalty thus decreed with the thought and the offense of the offender. Other direct statements in the Bible, indicating that the Law of Karma is inherent in man and all life, are the following:Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God, when he led you in the way? (Jer. 2:17.)What, then, shall be the nature and quality of our "fear" (respect) of God? Shall we fear with that paralyzing sense of terror and distrust one feels in the presence of an angry, unpredictable, human being, not knowing from moment to moment what to expect? Or shall we "fear the Lord" with that same exalted sense of awe, and trust (only far more reverent) that one feels at the Ocean, or when using Fire, or in the presence of any one of the utterly dependable Laws of Nature -- knowing for a certainty that whatever good or ill effects we experience are in exact proportion to our own wisdom or unwisdom in thought, feeling, and act? St. Paul's statement about sowing and reaping, and Isaiah's promise that "he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall possess the land," seem to leave little doubt that Deity is mathematically just, in no sense less trustworthy and reliable than the unerring Laws of the Universe instituted from all eternity.
Your ways and your doings have brought this upon you. This is your doom, and it is bitter; it has reached your very heart. (Jer. 4:18.)
Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing evil upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not given heed to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it. (Jer. 6:19.)
"My only fear," said Confucius, "is the fear of doing wrong." In the view of the Theosophist, the only fear that does any good and is worthy of the human being, that stabilizes the mind and makes a person think before he acts, is that fear or caution which springs from and is rooted in a knowledge of the Divine Law of Karma, which is one with God. This, beyond any doubt, is what Solomon and all the other prophets meant by "the fear of God" -- that is, a salutary fear (or caution) of that LAW which, in the poem of Buddha:...will not be contemned of any one;
Who thwarts it loses, and who serves it gains;
The hidden good it pays with peace and bliss,
The hidden ill with pains.
It seeth everywhere and marketh all:
Do right--it recompenseth! do one wrong--
The equal retribution must be made,
Though Dharma tarry long.
It knows not wrath nor pardon; utter-true
Its measures mete, its faultless balance weighs;
Times are as nought, tomorrow it will judge,
Or after many days.
Such is the Law which moves to righteousness,
Which none at last can turn aside or stay;
The heart of it is Love, the end of it
Is Peace and Consummation sweet. Obey!
The Light of Asia
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
(Part I of III)
(Part 5 of a 9-part series)
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