I recently picked up the Death Note manga. I have never seen the anime or read any of it, so this is all new to me. I say this knowing full well others have written better about this topic than I will here at Beneath the Tangles. I still want to take a crack at it as I’m just starting it now…
As you read volume one of Death Note you are introduced to Light Yagami. Light is a brilliant high school student. His father is a police officer and he has a fairly normal home life. Suddenly, he finds a Death Note. It is a book from Shinigami (death demons/gods) which will lead to the death of whomever’s name is written in the book. The writer only needs to know the person’s full name and what they look like, then they can add in the person. The person will then die from whatever cause is written. Creepy premise with a fascinating result.
After figuring out what he has and testing it out, Light decides he is going to reshape the world. He is going to wipe out evil. He is going to kill the killers, rapists, criminals of the world. He is going to make the world fear doing evil. He has decided to reshape the world in his own image. In essence, he is trying to be God. Herein lies the problem – Light is not God.
Reshaping the world into one’s own image is not a new form of evil. It has been seen throughout history from various people as they tried to take over the globe. From Hitler to Genghis Khan, all wanted to rule a world based on their own perspective, their own version of what was right and wrong. Much like Light’s views, the problem lies in the fact that there already is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. A world in man’s image is going to be flawed, broken, and filled with fear.
Fear is a powerful tool of the dictators of the world to prevent the people from rising up against them. Fear is what prevents us from stopping those who commit crimes right in front of us. Fear is what Light plans to use to establish order. He hopes that fear of him will lead to a more calm, safe society. He hopes that a people living in fear will be a people who are controllable in a better world crafted in his image. There is a big problem, though, which Light may not realize – he is not the one we should fear.
In the Bible there is mention of a few different kinds of fear. First is the fear which Light is hoping to instill – fear of things of this world. There are many things we fear – noises in the night, murderers, terrorism, the candidacy of [insert opposed political candidate here], you name it! People are easily frightened and become afraid of many things in this world. But why? They can cause pain, these things can harm us, they can take away that which we care about in this world. You’re right, but in the end – it’s all fading away, all temporary. As a Christian, we know there is life beyond this one and that the one who can destroy us here is not to be feared. We also know that we have a God who is control who will decide the final outcome. He is in charge, not anyone on this Earth – be it a ruler or a teenager with a god complex and a penchant for murder. God reminded Joshua that when He said to be strong and courageous. Jesus reminded us of that when He said not to fear those who can harm us in this world. In Proverbs 29:25, Solomon wrote, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” There is no reason to fear those who can harm us because in the end, this is but a temporary shell and there is something far better beyond this life.
There’s another kind of fear mentioned in the Bible. Fear of God. What is fear of God? Fear of God involves a respect for the one who created us and who could uncreate us. It is a recognition that He controls all things in His hands. It is an acknowledgement that He commands the true permanent, not the temporary things of this world. I’m going back to commentary from Matthew Henry on 1 John 4 where he wrote:
We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master’s anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God, are many.
I highlighted the core of what Henry was trying to get at with this commentary. At the core of fear of the Lord, is love. Love of God leads to a healthy respect to do what the Lord desires of us. Fear of man, fear of Light or his alter ego Kira, is based on hate and anger. It isn’t based on love of man. It isn’t based on love of society. It isn’t even based on love of Light. It’s based on Light’s hatred for criminals, Light’s hatred for those he feels are less than desirable. It is based on hate of a society that is not ordered the way he wants it. This is a hate based fear making it the exact opposite of fear of the Lord.
Fear based on bitterness and hate is not fear of the Lord, but it is the very thing dictators use to retain power. That’s what Light is using. That is the society Light is trying to create. That is not a society I want to live in.
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One thought on “Newman’s Nook: The Power of Fear”
“Much like Light’s views, the problem lies in the fact that there already is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. A world in man’s image is going to be flawed, broken, and filled with fear.”
Well, yes, if one is a moral absolutist, as in Christianity. The problem is that, even though we literally have guidebooks (In the Christian case, the Bible) which attempt to explain it, even those who most fervently follow the guidebooks don’t seem to know what the “absolute right and wrong” is. Is it “Thalt shall not suffer a witch to live” or “forgive thy neighbor?” Is it “Hate the sin, love the sinner” or “God got so angry at a bunch of sinners that he dropped a holy atom bomb on them?”
There are obviously a lot of pretty good theological answers to some of these questions, from various learned men and women. But is not Light’s problem, in fact, also that he considers his own moral views absolutely correct and superior to those of others?
“We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master’s anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly.”
….I think I was afraid of my real Dad maybe once, and in that moment I definitely didn’t experience love. I’ve honestly always wondered if the whole phrase “fear of God” was a bizarre cultural mistranslation, because it seems like people actually mean “Awe of and respect for God.” There’s no fear in that— Maybe a natural wariness of something Infinite, but not anxiety or terror.
“Instilling the fear of the Lord” in someone used to literally mean instilling fear through punishment, and I don’t think this is at all what He had in mind.