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Religion and Culture

Religion & Culture | The philosopher – in awe of God or in fear of dying

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2019 | 12:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby - Contributor

In less than 24 hours, the young man was fast becoming a philosopher. The hospital does that to you.

He sat bandaged, but upbeat. After all, he had not broken a single bone after the freak accident outside his home.

However, around him gasps of agitation and cries of pain echoed. Reality was different in these parts. He was treated by a young nurse who went outside the boundaries of her profession to caution him of good and evil and the grace of God.

“Put God first and everything will be fine,” she said.

He did not quite understand why the hospital seemed an extension of the church he attended every Sunday. He reflected, only to have his thoughts derailed by another nurse. This time, a stout woman, her voice as assertive as the headmaster of the last school he attended, said: “No one wants to die because you don’t know what will happen to you.”

Her insecurity belied her appearance. She hurried along, leaving him the iced water he requested.

And long before his thirst was quenched, a bespectacled man with pamphlets stood before him. Wearing a skullcap, his faith was indeterminable – Jew or Muslim, the young man could not decide. The man later identified himself as Jewish, a rabbinical student, no less.

“Do you want to pray with me?” he asked.

Confused, the young man declined. Still, he stretched out his hand to accept a tract titled, ‘Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom.’

Fear, according to the chaplain, meant awe, reverence, veneration for the Creator. It is a common refrain in Judaeo-Christianity where it is first mentioned in Genesis 22:12: “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him; for now I know that thou fear God, seeing this has not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”

And the young man recalled Philippians 2:12 where fear is mentioned again: “Wherefore, my beloved, as he has always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”


But it is in Proverbs 9:10 that the admonition on fear stood stark: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is Understanding”

And the young man reflected on like statements in the Koran, Islam’s holy script, where fear is called Taqwa and the fearful and the obedient are known as al-Muttaqin. In the great and minor religions, fear reigns. Surely, the young man knew this.

But this fear has neither brought wisdom nor understanding as the Good Book promises. Man remains forever brutish, bellicose, envious and covetous. What the young man really saw around him was the dread of dying, a fear of the unknown. Man, through his well-crafted rituals and prayers, was bargaining with a supposed power believed to be bigger than himself, bargaining to be spared some perceived, ineffable terror.

In just a few hours, this young man was given life’s most honest lesson. Such is the uniqueness of the hospital – a place that tells the most brutal of truths: man is petrified of dying. While the outside world offers the respite of diversion, the hospital or sanatorium – call it what you want – forces us to reflect on our mortality and the uncertainty of the hereafter. For many of us, a terrifying thought. The young man pondered.

- Dr Glenville Ashby is the award-winning author of the audio book, ‘Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity’. Email feedback to and, or tweet @glenvilleashby.