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Ethics and Religion Talk: Is God's Role to be Fearsome or Loving?

Genevieve asks, “Is God’s role more that of divine power to be feared, a loving creator, or otherwise?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

/The Rapidian

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“Yes, God is a divine power to be feared, a holy Being, and a loving creator. Most people believe all, or some, of these descriptions about God. But people have a harder time believing that he wants to be in close relationship with us. It's hard to believe that this powerful God, who is feared by so many, is also a very personal God who wants relationship with us and that our souls will be restless until we do. In fact, he is so closely involved in our lives that he has planned out the details of each of our lives before we were even born.

" ‘From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being;” as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” ’ (Acts 17:26-28)."

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“One of my professors once told me, ‘What we say or think about God often says far more about us than it ever will about God.’ I think it's interesting to notice the ease with which we can dichotomize God as being either a loving creator or divine power. There are so myriad legitimate metaphors and characteristics to describe God, and we’d do well to discern what our lenses for God actually teach us about ourselves.

“In any case, I have grown to believe that threatening or fear-mongering people into belief in God does not produce the kind of love or loving people that define the ideal Christian community. If we reimagine fear to mean reverence—the kind of respect for God that compels, not forces, us to observe the teachings of Jesus—then we might be getting somewhere. But far too many people have been burned by a religion that tells them to cower in fear, lest they be damned, instead of resting in divine love. And to help people heal from this damaging fear-mongering, we can offer them love.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“In all my years of study I have never come across a verse in scripture that would indicate the need for fear of the divine.

“Many westerners have gotten the impression that there is an angry side to God due to some rather fearsome iconography from ancient time. The goddess Kali is portrayed with a necklace of human skulls around her neck, holding a severed head in one hand.  While it is true that some of Kali’s devotees were members of a Mafia-like gang of criminals called Thuggees (where we get “thugs” in English), Kali’s fierce nature was really directed at ‘demonic’ tendencies that attack us. This aspect of divinity is not worshipped out of fear, but with intense devotion toward a mother who will do battle with any culprit who threatens her children. This is just one example of how mythology needs to be examined in the right context to be edifying.

“Since Hindus do not accept the idea of a punishing deity there is no reason to fear that; but we can ‘fear’ (or be concerned with) our own actions which can lead to negative results.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Presbyterianism teaches that ‘God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth’ (Shorter Catechism, Q. 4). As Maker of heaven and earth, ‘He has lordship and sovereignty over all, and is to feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served’ (Westminster Confession, Ch. XXI.I) by all His creatures, and especially by all humankind, as creatures made in His image. As the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He is the heavenly Father of all who are joined to Christ by a true faith. God is all these things at once, so there is no need to assign priority to one or another of these ‘roles.’

"As Christians, our response to God is likewise many things at once. We fear and honor Him as God and Lord. We thank and praise Him as our Maker, Sustainer, and Redeemer. We trust in Him and call upon Him, love and obey Him, as our Father in heaven for Christ’s sake. We grieve when we offend Him by our unbelief and disobedience, but rejoice in His promise of pardon for sin and grace for eternal life. But there is always more in God to be discovered and enjoyed: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ (Romans 11:33)."


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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