Yes, I am a God-fearing man. You name a god—I fear him. Or her. Don’t mistake me: I fear all gods just about equally, although some godlings from the distant past that have been debunked or discredited by well-argued, effectively supported critiques would probably make me less qualmish than others. Mind you, if I encountered Baal or one of his disreputable cousins in a dark alley and it became clear that Baal or said cousin was in a foul mood that evening, I would be very afraid. I would, I trust, ooze as much fear—and sweat—as I would if I were summoned to appear for final judgment before Yahweh or Allah. I’m sure my knees would shake, my pulse would race, my breathing come painfully—all the traditional traits when one comes into the presence of a god. Of course, one is tempted to doubt whether one would experience the same degree of shakiness, etc., in the presence of a god like Aphrodite or Asherah, both reputed to be easy on the eyes and not inclined to drape themselves in excess clothing, if you know what I mean. Perhaps in a case like that, one would be more likely to pant and stare, if not ogle, and mutter ancient phrases of awe like “Hubba-hubba!” Still, when you consider it a little more systematically, you—or I, if I were in that position—would do well to exhibit fear, because, after all, wasn’t it Aphrodite who ultimately caused the Trojan War with her acute jealousy? So, the take-home message would be: don’t mess with her.
But Aphrodite and Asherah are both goddesses related to the sea, and when you come right down to it, who doesn’t love the sea? On the other hand, I have a strong feeling that I’d be extremely god-fearing in the presence—or even general vicinity—of Kali, even though she’s another god whose feminine charms are usually unclothed. Because, let’s be frank here, she’s got anywhere from four to ten arms, which is a bit of a turn-off, especially since she’s clutching a fierce sword in one or more of them, and the word on the street is that her breasts are often smeared with the blood of humans she’s dispatched. So, yes, definitely qualmish. Another tip: her favorite jewelry is a necklace made of skulls. Fear would definitely trump lust in the case of Kali.
And who wouldn’t fear Yahweh? (And look, Big Fella, if you prefer Jehovah, just substitute the proper name wherever I have “Yahweh.”) This god sure knows how to stir up a whole batch of mind-boggling fear. “Yo, Abraham, you know your son Isaac that you’re always bragging about? The one you love so much?” And Yahweh can part seas more easily than I can part my hair. I can safely say that I fear Yahweh something fierce.
They say Jesus Christ is different, the God of Love rather than the God of Justice. (Now you or I might have proposed calling Yahweh the “God of Fear” instead of the “God of Justice,” but neither you nor I wrote the Ur-text and rumor is that God vetted this approved version, so what do we know?) Sure, in some ways Jesus seems just like one of the guys for much of his bio, especially when he turns water into wine just to keep the festivities going at that wedding at Cana. You the Man! But when you dig a little deeper, you find a few things that send the beginnings of one heck of a shiver down your spine. Like when he walks on water! Yes, you read that right: walks on water! Now, I don’t know who you normally hang with, but the people I hang with can’t pull stunts like that. And let’s not forget that Jesus arrived to “redeem” the world. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t redeemed anything more portentous than a coupon at my local supermarket. You look around, though, and you say to yourself: slavery, Holocaust, genocide, Khmer Rouge, 9/11, suicide bombers, bloody crises all over the globe—this is the redeemed world? Still, I don’t think I have the cojones to contradict Jesus & Co. face to face. So, yes, I am a card-carrying member of the God-Fearing Club.
And nobody in his or her right mind would mess with Zeus. Not when he’s got a thunderbolt in his hand and he’s feeling a bit ornery. Or even when he’s feeling a bit amorous: after all, we saw what he did to Semele, who gave birth to Dionysus but also was consumed in divine fire. But let’s be honest: those thunderbolts aren’t the only thing about Zeus that strikes fear into the hearts and minds of men. What about his “staff of life”? Holy cow, to have fathered so many gods and demigods and keep on ticking! I suspect that for many men, however, that fearful awe of Zeus’s generative tool is mixed with deep feelings of inadequacy and envy. Wouldn’t it be great if Zeus deigned to share some tips with the little guys?
Not gonna happen. Because we are all little guys, aren’t we, when it comes right down to it, and it would behoove all of us not to forget our place in this universe. And that, my friend, means fearing god. Oh, yes, like you’ve never feared anything else.
—One of two Finalists in the MacQ
RESQ (aka “Qualmish”) Writing Challenge
was born in Rome, graduated from Columbia College, and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked for many years as an editor and writer. His fiction has appeared in Partisan Review, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Café Irreal, The Twilight Zone Magazine, Literal Latte, and other journals. His story “The Real World” received an honorable mention from Writer’s Digest, was published in Columbia Magazine, and was later performed as part of Writing Aloud, a program of InterAct Theatre Company of Philadelphia. His innovative collection Tales from Webster’s was published in 2017 by Livingston Press, winner of its Tartt Fiction Award.