The Fear of God and the Yoga of Devotion

One of the earliest motives that lead to religious worship of the Divine is that of fear. The power and majesty of God are on display through the works of Nature and the human individual, small, weak, limited and subject to control by those larger forces, frequently approaches these powers of God with a sense of awe or fear. In a more developed religion there arises an institutional form of modulating this response through creation of sets of rules or principles of action; the failure to adhere to this codified series of rules of conduct leads to divine retribution or divine justice being meted out to the individual who has transgressed.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “In certain religions, in most perhaps, the idea of the fear of God plays a very large part, sometimes the largest, and the God-fearing man is the typical worshiper of these religions. The sentiment of fear is indeed perfectly consistent with devotion of a certain kind and up to a certain point; at its highest it rises into a worship of the divine Power, the divine Justice, divine Law, divine Righteousness, and ethical obedience, an awed reverence for the almighty Creator and Judge…. It regards God as the King and does not approach too near the glory of his throne unless justified by righteousness or led there by a mediator who will turn away the divine wrath for sin. Even when it draws nearest, it keeps an awed distance between itself and the high object of its worship. It cannot embrace the Divine with all the fearless confidence of the child in his mother or of the lover in his beloved or with that intimate sense of oneness which perfect love brings with it.”

The Yoga of devotion aims to bridge the gap between the Divine and the human through establishing the unity or Oneness between them; thus, eventually the sense of distinction or separation that underlies the fear of God must be overcome for the perfection of this yogic path.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 3, The Godward Emotions, pp. 537-538

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