Whether God can be Feared
We proceed to the first article thus:
1. It seems that God cannot be feared. It was said in 12ae, Q.41, Arts.2 and 3, that the object of fear is a future evil. But God is free of all evil, since he is goodness itself. It follows that God cannot be feared.
2. Again, fear is opposed to hope. But we hope in God. We cannot therefore fear him at the same time.
3. Again, the philosopher says that |we fear the things from which evil comes to us| (2 Rhetoric 5). Now evil does not come to us from God, but from ourselves, according to Hos.13:9: |O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.| It follows that God ought not to be feared.
On the other hand: it is said in Jer.10:7: |Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?| and in Mal.1:6: |if I be a master, where is my fear?|
I answer: just as hope has a twofold object, namely the future good which one hopes to obtain, and the help of another through which one hopes to obtain it, so also can fear have a twofold object, namely the evil which a man fears, and the source from which it can come to him. God cannot be the evil which a man fears, since he is goodness itself. But he can be the object of fear, in so far as some evil thing may threaten us from him, or from a divine source. The evil of punishment comes to us from God. Yet this is not an evil absolutely, but only relatively Absolutely, it is a good. We say that a thing is good if it is ordered to an end, and evil implies privation of such order. Hence that is evil absolutely, which excludes the order which leads to the final end. This is the evil of guilt. The evil of punishment, on the other hand, is an evil only in so far as it deprives one of some particular good. It is a good absolutely, in so far as it belongs to the order which leads to the final end. Now the evil of guilt can come to us through our relationship to God, if we separate ourselves from him. In this way, God can and ought to be feared.
On the first point: this reasoning argues from the object of fear considered as the evil which a man fears.
On the second point: we must think both of the justice with which God punishes sinners and of the mercy with which he sets us free. The thought of God's justice causes us to fear, and the thought of his mercy causes us to hope. God is thus the object both of fear and of hope, under different aspects.
On the third point: God is not the source of the evil of guilt, but we ourselves, in so far as we separate ourselves from him. But God is the source of the evil of punishment in so far as it has the nature of a good, as a just punishment justly inflicted upon us. Punishment occurs, however, only because our sin merits it in the first place. Hence it is said in Wisdom 1:13: |God did not make death . . . but the ungodly have summoned it by their hands and by their words.|