essays on suffering and awakening

Fearing God and nothing else

Rewatching The Crown recently, I was struck by a line in a speech. Eulogizing the final hours of the life of King George VI in a nationally broadcast radio address, Winston Churchill says: “he fell asleep as every man or woman who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may hope to do.”

Churchill meant those words as a comfort. But how many of us have lived burdened by fear of the divine? How many have been turned off from spiritual pursuits because we intuitively reject a punitive deity? How can we square that harsh, judgmental image of God, still talked about today, with faith in a loving, generous universe—whether theistic or otherwise?

If God is a word to describe infinite universal interconnectedness—and the love and power that comes from that—then really, there is only one thing to fear: the reality that what we do to others, we are also doing to ourselves. If we see that none of us are separate, then what goes around comes around isn’t just a cliche but a literal description of how things are. We’re only ever engaging with the man in the mirror: if we hit him, whose knuckles are bruised?

But even here, fear isn’t the right word. Not beyond the initial urge to pay attention that comes from our inborn danger sense anyway. Fear carries a sense of harshness and of shrinking away from that can quickly distort our vision.

Instead, we can practice mindful awareness and develop our sense of humility—of being a part of. That, and nurture forgiveness for the many times we fall short.

Ian Cooper