Fear or Love God?
If we examine the matter closely, we will notice that in all our actions and reactions fear, love, and hope are combined to various degrees. Although in some cases one of these factors might be the dominant and there is not always an equal balance, their coexistence is inevitable.
Fear, hope, and love are wijdani phenomena (i.e. they are experienced directly and intuitively, and as such their comprehension does not rely on mental concepts or sensational experience) and thus are without need of being defined. The human being experiences fear when faced with certain issues, such as:
a. When his life, property, reputation, etc. are endangered;
b. When overwhelmed by the grandeur of something or somebody;
c. When he feels clueless regarding the outcome and repercussions of an action or his fate. Although, it must be noted that it is possible that in certain cases all these factors be present.
Likewise, the feeling of love and affection is evoked in response to certain factors, such as:
a. Finding certain attractive and beautiful aspects in the beloved such that one’s attraction to the beloved is the entailment of one’s fondness of the beauties that the beloved manifests. Traditional poets detest this love as being “in pursuit of the veneer”, and thus he who nurtures this love is condemned to disrepute. However, this is not a universal truth. If the beauties found in the beloved are passing, ephemeral, and superficial, the poet is correct. But, if the beauties and perfections that the beloved possesses are of the nature of moral values or if those beauties and perfections are existential and real ones, the resulting love would not be merely “pursuit of the veneer” and disreputable; rather its upshot would be harmony.
b. The feeling of dependence on and need of the object of affection such that one intends to exploit that object of affection in pursuing one’s aspirations. In this type of relationship, one is attracted to the object of affection for one’s own sake and not for the object’s sake.
c. The love that swells in one’s heart as the result of feeling indebted to one’s patron. In this relationship, the lover is attracted to the beloved as the result of the bounties and benevolence he has received from the beloved and as such is beholden to the beloved.
d. The beloved seeks the love of the lover and strives to captivate him in order to minister to the lover and to succor him. It is possible that more than one of the above categories be involved in one case of love.
If we examine the matter closely, we will notice that in all our actions and reactions fear, love, and hope are combined to various degrees. Although in some cases one of these factors might be the dominant and there is not always an equal balance, their coexistence is inevitable. However, this is one of the issues that is obscure to us due to its conspicuousness. Hope and love impel us to action both in our daily activities and in the risky tasks we undertake. Fear on the other hand restrains us so as to exercise caution, to assess the repercussions of our actions and to prepare the adequate preliminaries. Had we been only equipped with love, we would be reckless, which would have entailed our early destruction. And had fear been unrivalled, we would never undertake any action even such mundane things as drinking and eating, for there is always the risk of a drop of water or a bite of food going down the wrong pipe, causing suffocation.
Therefore, there should be no confusion as to the coexistence of fear, hope, and love regarding Allah. And if there is, it is only another sign of our obliviousness to self-knowledge and our psychic states.
To explain this further: The existence of fear, hope, and love with regard to Allah in different people is proportionate to their knowledge of Allah and His Attributes of Beauty and of Majesty, their knowledge of the true religion, their past conduct, and their assurance or lack of assurance regarding their future.
Those who are captivated by the magnificence and grandeur of the Truth or have in the past sinned and have dishonored the Divine presence—in their case, fear overshadows love and hope. But on the other side of the spectrum are those who are entranced by Divine Beauty and Mercy. They have experienced the Divine graces and favors and have in the past been cautious of their conduct and have honored the Divine presence and in instances where they did slip and commit sin, found the door back to Allah’s favor and forgiveness, seized it, and thus made a genuine repentance. In their case, love and hope overpower fear.
But finally there are those who are midway between the two previously mentioned positions. That is, they are not sure of their prior deeds being accepted and are thus afraid of their future and the possibility of not being delivered from Divine punishment and chastisement but at the same time hold hope in Allah’s forgiveness and generosity. In other words, their fear on the one hand and their hope and love on the other strike a balance [and so neither side weighs heavier].
The important point is that in most cases, fear and love arise from one’s innate self-interest and instinct of self-preservation. That is, most believers love Allah and have hope in Him due to their fear of Divine chastisement in the hereafter and the possibility of being deprived of Divine effusions, bounties, heavenly joys—the beautiful houris and the marvelous castles. But those who are enthralled by the beauty and perfection of Allah or are in awe of His magnificence, invincibility, and grandeur, or are affected by both, account only for a small number of the believers. Thus, with the exception of the prophets and the Imams, those who have been able to achieve the latter stage have been very few.
Imam Ali b. Abi Talib (peace be upon him) defines these three groups in his legacy of wisdom as follows: “One group worships Allah in hope of boons and benevolence – such is the worship of businessmen; another group worships him out of fear – such is the worship of slaves; and yet another group worships Allah out of gratitude – such is the worship of those who are free of themselves and of self-worship.” (Nahjul Balagha, short saying #237)
It is for this reason that some prominent scholars state that one of the fundamentals of Islamic pedagogy is love. The Noble Qur’an, the great source of Islamic morals, introduces love as the fulcrum of moral virtues. Imam Ja’far b. Muhammad as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) says, “Allah the Immaculate disciplined and trained his Prophet through love.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
The topics of warning (takhwif) and encouragement (tashwiq) permeate the Qur’an and the narrations of the Ahlul Bayt. However, these two principles are the final stage for the weak believers, but as for the intermediate believers, they constitute the means and the preliminary stage. The believer starts the journey, being spurred forth by warning and encouragement but gradually the compelling force transforms to love.
Hence one need not be confused regarding the coexistence of fear and love in relation to Allah. This coexistence of fear and hope is necessary for the spiritual training, elevation and development of the human being. For fear prevents us from sinning, from bringing destruction to ourselves, and from incurring Divine wrath and chastisement, which in turn leads to greater humility and firmer obedience to Allah. Love, on the other hand, compels one to undertake the obligatory rituals and the supererogatory prayers with enthusiasm and to hasten in achieving the means to Divine grace, mercy, and bounties.
In short, the fruit of the marriage of fear and hope in the human being are hastening to do good, to implant in oneself the moral virtues, and to avoid evil and sin, which constitute the ultimate goal of human creation intended by Allah; that is, to paint ourselves with the colour of the Divine, attaining the station of Divine viceroyalty, reclining in the bounties of the hereafter, and to rid ourselves of all anxiety and anguish. And this has been expressed time and again in the Qur’an. (2:62)
Fear alone [uncoupled with hope and love] will entail gloominess, depression, hopelessness, neglect of repentance, and sinking into the whirlpool of sin, being overwhelmed with the misfortunes of this world and the hereafter, etc.
Love alone leads to impudence and shamelessness in committing sins with the false hope of repentance in the latter years of life, and unwarranted expectance of Divine grace and mercy, while one should not expect to benefit from Divine grace and mercy when one is neglectful of attaining those means which secure His grace and mercy.
It is in allusion to this point that Imam Hussain b. ‘Ali (peace be upon him) cries in his ‘Arafah Supplication saying, “May the eye of he who does not behold You watching over him be blind. And he to whom You have not apportioned some love will lose his asset of existence.” (Mafatih al-Jinan)
It is in the hereafter that we will reap the fruit of fear and love. There will be the abode of chastisement for those who did not respect this blessing or who lost hope in redemption, drowning in the whirlpool of sin, or whom were deceived and thus failed to prepare provisions for their eternal life. There will be the abode of blessing and peace, free of all forms of anxiety and fear for those who succeeded in keeping the balance of fear and hope, those who refrained from sin and prepared sufficient provisions of good deeds for their eternal life.
For further reading on this topic refer to books of ethics, the chapters on fear and hope, love, and friendship. The following are a few suggestions:
Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, The Levels of Ethics in the Qur’an
Imam Khomeini, An Exposition of Forty Hadith
Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, Ethics in the Qur’an