In this post, I will muse and ramble about the fear of God, as I draw from passages in Stephen King’s IT.
As a child, Beverly Marsh was afraid of her father. Page 395 has a poignant passage about the authority that Beverly’s father had in her eyes: “If the two of them had been standing at the edge of a high cliff and he told her to step off—right now, girl—her instinctive obedience would almost certainly have carried her over the edge before her rational mind could have intervened.” That is how some religionists think that we should approach God: that we should obey God without question, for God has authority over us. Of course, many religionists would also argue that God is loving, and that the things God has commanded that look bad are in fact good, only we don’t see that, on account of our limited perspective. But there is still a sense that God carries himself with a significant amount of authority, and that God can be quite intimidating.
But fear is not necessarily a bad thing. On page 432, after IT has caused a bunch of blood to cover Beverly’s bathroom, Beverly’s fear of her father getting mad at her on account of the blood actually steadies her a bit (even though she fully realizes that neither her father nor any other adult can even see the blood). Beverly draws from her fear of her father to assuage her fear of IT. And, when Beverly is an adult, her fear of IT lessens her fear of her psychotically abusive husband, Tom Rogan. When Beverly gets the call from Mike Hanlon telling her that IT has returned and that she must go back to Derry, she practically overlooks her husband when he is about to beat her—something that ordinarily made her cower in submission. Now, she tells her husband to put his belt away! Similarly, the fear of God can lead people to fear other things far less. And did not Jesus in Matthew 10:28 exhort his disciples to fear the one who can cast their bodies and souls into hell, not those who can only kill their bodies?
But, as a child, Beverly fell in love with Bell Denbrough because he had a different kind of authority. Pages 562-563: “[Bill] had loved her, and in some ways she supposed that had everything to do with why she had fallen so desperately in love with Bill Denbrough that long summer of 1958—because of all the boys, Bill was the one who projected the sense of authority she associated with her father…but it was a different sort of authority, somehow—it was authority that listened. She saw no assumption in either his eyes or his actions that he believed his father’s kind of worrying to be the only authority needed to exist…as if people were pets, to be both cosseted and disciplined.” On page 362, Richie speculates about what Berverly sees in Bill, for he, too, recognizes that Bill has a certain charisma: “Goodness and strength seemed to radiate from Bill. He was like a knight in an old movie, a movie that was corny but still had the power to make you cry and cheer and clap at the end. Strong and good.” Bill had an authority that was rooted in strength, goodness, and love. And, right after Jesus told his disciples to fear God, did he not tell them that they were of more value to God than many sparrows, whose deaths do not escape God’s notice, and that God had numbered the very hairs of their heads (Matthew 10:29-31)?
There are people who view God as someone who is like Beverly’s father, or IT: terrifying, and perhaps to be obeyed. (Beverly herself did not feel compelled to obey IT, but the bully Henry Bowers did, for IT killed his friends and left him alive. Consequently, out of fear of IT, Henry confessed to the murders of the kids in Derry, which IT had caused). But there are others who see God the way that Beverly and Richie saw Bill Denbrough: authoritative on account of God’s strength and goodness. And then there are people who try to combine the two pictures, for they feel that they have to do so, on account of both pictures being in the Bible. But, in my opinion, those who are in love with God have the latter picture somewhere in their conception of God.
I’m reminded of something that my Grandpa Pate once said: that Satan desires God’s power, but not God’s character. There is more to God than raw power, for God has a different kind of authority as well: strength, goodness, and heroism.