The consciousness of union with God is mystical, that is, veiled, rather than beatific; it is not an absolutely direct and full consciousness, but resembles to some extent the consciousness which we have of our own selves. For while we cannot perceive our own egos directly, we know that we exist. We do not know what we are, but we know ourselves as existing, and this knowledge is present as an undertone in all other knowledge. Similarly, the mystical knowledge of God is a knowledge of God in the act of his presence and union with us, but is not immediate vision and apprehension of the divine essence.

Alan Watts, Behold The Spirit

It’s funny that the word “apprehension” has two very different meanings. There is the one that most people think of nowadays: “anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen.”[1] But there’s the older one: “to understand or grasp”[2].

Alan Watts was a master of language use, and so I’m not surprised that he managed to pick the word “apprehension” which could mean either understanding God or being afraid of God. There are dozens of places in the Bible that we are told to fear God, but the word “love” appears over 1000 times.

I periodically drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike through Lancaster County. For many years there has been a large billboard on the side of the road which says You will meet God. My reaction has always been “Cool! Looking forward to it.” I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that this sign was meant to scare people, and I wonder why someone went to the expense of putting up a sign to scare people. Why should we be afraid of God? Is this the cosmic version of “Wait ‘till your father gets home?”

Maybe the Biblical references to fearing God are the result of the wrong word choice in translation?

[1] Google dictionary

[2] ibid


Michelangelo / Public domain