“For even true and genuine sons, ten parts of love should be mixed with five parts of fear.”
St. Isaac the Syrian
The world is an unequal place. Some are born, as they say, with a silver spoon in their mouths; some are born into a world of need and instability. Some are born slaves, St. Isaac says, and some are born free; some are born into circumstances conducive to the flourishing of life, some struggle with death from the beginning. The world is an unequal place.
Saints such as St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom devote a great deal of their writing and sermonizing to this matter of inequity in the world and how Christians and Christian societies are to respond to it. St. John, in several homilies, argues that God allows inequity to continue even in the Church so that the faithful can acquire virtue (Christlikeness) by giving and receiving. The poor learn thankfulness and humility while the rich learn generosity and humility, thus the body of Christ lacks no virtue as all of the virtues are manifest in its care for itself.
St. Isaac the Syrian, on the other hand, reflects on this inequity from the perspective of theoria. That is, he reflects on what happens when human beings think deeply and spiritually about the inequity they experience in the world. Men and women see that this mortal life has so much random inequity, and they are led to contemplate the judgements of God and God Himself. Death is the only constant in this variable world, and death awakens in the hearts of men and women the awareness of judgement. However, how people think about judgement and God varies too, because of the dissimilar ways of thinking and different conditions of human hearts because of the inequity in the world.
Some are driven by despair to doubt the love of God. Others, out of the self confidence that has come over them due to their success or prosperity in some area, poison themselves with deadly sins not expecting any significant consequences, not thinking of death and thus not considering the judgement. Therefore, St. Isaac concludes, that love must be mixed with fear in our relationship with God. “For even true and genuine sons,” St. Isaac says, “ten parts of love should be mixed with five parts of fear.”
Archimandrite Sophrony, disciple of St. Silouan, says in one of his letters that one of the characteristics of Christian dogma is that it always involves a paradox. God is one and three. Christ is God and man. Death has been conquered, yet we must all pass through death. I guess if the Christian teaching about reality were self evident, we wouldn’t need dogma.
That love and fear must be together is certainly paradoxical. It is not easy and it may not feel natural to some to experience both love and fear toward someone, toward God. Yet St. Isaac says fear is necessary lest we be poisoned by self confidence.
Ten parts love to five parts fear. That’s St. Isaac’s formula. Fear need never overcome us. Our experience of God’s love is twice as strong. Ten parts love. Nevertheless, for the sake of our salvation in this variable world, so that we do not become over confident or puffed up due to our occasional experiences of success or prosperity, five parts fear is also necessary. Love and fear and Love. Love and fear and Love. Love and fear and Love. Like a heart beat. And so we come to know God and reality as it really is. And so we are saved.