The Root and Origin of Divine Fear

An individual born into the world experiences innumerable forces which can harm or kill him. Some of them are awe-inspiring in their intensity. The tornado or the typhoon, the earthquake or the volcano are just a few of the powers of Nature that bring an inner recognition that there are things that are more powerful than can be comprehended, and which are impossible for the individual to control. The ocean, the mountains, the intensity of the sun also provide an overwhelming experience of smallness and weakness in the individual’s being. Other powers of Nature, including other beings in the world, as well as the changes brought about by weather and season, reinforce the sense that there are powers that are larger, stronger and dominating which act upon us and do their will with us.

The simple natural man could simply react in awe. As humanity developed, and codes of social and moral conduct were developed, a natural evolution took place to begin to attribute the actions of these forces to a capacity to judge and exact retribution on the individual. The ancient Greeks developed a keen sense of how certain attitudes would bring forth the powers that pulled the overly proud down from their heights and humbled them. Other cultures developed similar forms of understanding.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “It was the perception of powers in the world greater than man, obscure in their nature and workings, which seemed always ready to strike him down in his prosperity and to smite him for any actions which displeased them.”

As mankind began to delve deeply into the operations of Nature, some began to assert that the actions that had elicited fear of divine justice or retribution were actually the natural operation of nature unconnected to any individual’s specific mode of conduct. Yet the basis of the sense of divine intervention remains at the core of a number of major religious traditions.

“Fear of the gods arose from man’s ignorance of God and his ignorance of the laws that govern the world. It attributed to the higher powers caprice and human passion; it made them in the image of the great ones of the earth, capable of whim, tyranny, personal enmity, jealous of any greatness in man which might raise him above the littleness of terrestrial nature and bring him too near to the divine nature.”

The idea that the gods required propitiation, adoration, and worship and that by undertaking such acts, they would support and uphold the individual and provide prosperity and beneficence and keep the individual from harm, corresponded to the ways human beings interacted in their societies and governmental management structures.

“With such notions no real devotion could arise, except that doubtful kind which the weaker may feel for the stronger whose protection he can buy by worship and gifts and propitiation and obedience to such laws as he may have laid upon those beneath him and may enforce by rewards and punishments, or else the submissive and prostrate reverence and adoration which one may feel for a greatness, glory, wisdom, sovereign power which is above the world and is the source or at any rate the regulator of all its laws and happenings.”

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.