Faith Brings Comfort, But Not at First – A Reflection on a Teaching by Peter Kreeft

110614For ongoing education and spiritual growth, I am always reading. One of the books I am currently reading is Peter Kreeft’s Angels and Demons. As most of you know, I have often expressed concern that angels have been sentimentalized and even trivialized. Most people’s conception of angels is far from what the Bible describes! If you have read Peter Kreeft, you know that very few people can express things as well as he does. Thus I would like to give you a quote from his book wherein he masterfully and succinctly describes the tendency to eviscerate Holy Fear from “modern religion.” I will comment a little bit at the end.

All the current angel books seem to assume the angels are comforting. Yet almost every time a real angel appears in the Bible, he has to say “Fear not!” …

Religious fear, or awe, is an  essential ingredient of all true religion, yet it has been systematically exiled from modern, “psychologically correct” religion … The thing the Bible calls “the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7, 4:7, 9:10; Wis 6:17; Sirach 1:14)  is the experience modern religious educators and liturgists deliberately remove or try to remove from our souls: fear and trembling, adoration and worship, the bending of the knee, the prone heart. The modern God is “something I can feel comfortable with.” The God of the Bible, in contrast, is “a consuming fire” (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 12:29).

Angels are closer to God, and something of his fiery fearsomeness rubs off on them. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, when told by a student that it must be gratifying to spend his life amid “the comforts of religion” replied, “God is not an uncle. God is not nice. God is an earthquake.” The same applies to God’s angels.

Of course God and his angels are good.  But “good”  does not mean “comfortable.” … And of course fear does not mean craven fear or fear of an evil tyrant. It means awe …

Angels always do us good. They warn, rescue, guide, and enlighten. So the end result is indeed comforting. But not at first. True religion never begins in comfort. It begins in repentance and humility and fear (Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons pp 33-34).

This quote is a keeper. And on a personal note, I want to add that God has been good and merciful to me. Yet he has not always “comforted” me, since that was sometimes not what I needed.

In recent years I have begun to experience deeper and deeper contemplative prayer. But I know well that it took a lot of purgation by God to bring me to such a place, and that purgation was neither easy nor comforting. Indeed, my first experiences with deep prayer came in the midst of one of the greatest crisises of my life, during my mid-thirties. Thus Dr. Kreeft’s final point that the result is comforting, but not at first, has surely been true for me and for most people I know who have made a true spiritual journey.

Please beware of the false repackaging of true faith, the kind that Dr. Kreeft rebukes here. Reverence God and His angels. Know that they do us good and bring us comfort, but not always on our terms or schedule. Let God be God. A fake, modernized god cannot save. Only the True God, the God who reveals Himself in Scripture, on His terms (whether we like them or not) can save us.

Let God be true though every man be false! (Romans 3:4)

13 Replies to “Faith Brings Comfort, But Not at First – A Reflection on a Teaching by Peter Kreeft”

  1. Thank you frCharles Pope. Thank you for affirming my ‘understanding’ and belief.

  2. I loved this Msgr. Pope, thank you. My own experiences with God have often been humbling, to say the least. And often highly uncomfortable, as He showed me my shortcomings and self delusions..During ecstatic encounter, His power is felt so deeply, your whole being trembles in complete awe and reverent fear. One small taste changes a soul forever. We truly have no true concept of the power of God. Uncomfortable, life changing, life bringing, He can for a time make you feel as if you are literally taken apart. But.. then comes that sweet piercing love pouring over you and you know you have found the true source of joy and piece.

  3. If we so desire Him, God will do whatever it takes to bring us to Heaven, to bring us to Himself.

  4. Often , one refers to only one aspect of God leading others to think that one does not also know the other aspects of God. Opportunities for misunderstanding and confusion seem rampant in the social media world where the first sentence is read, a misperceptions takes over and very little time is spent listening and querying in order to understand. It’s quite a challenge. But you do a good job here, very helpful for me, and I trust your works. Thank you.

  5. Thank-you for this posting!

    This article defeats the phraise, “once saved always saved.”

  6. I prayed for greater wisdom last night and this article starts off with holy fear – the beginning of wisdom. God provides.

  7. Great article as usual, Monsignor. I’d only note, for those interested in reading the quote in context, that it is question 33, but found on pp 62-63 (at least in my copy). Thanks for sharing this great vision of the angels with Msgr. Hope all is well.

  8. The ‘fear’ of the LORD is spoken of by Jesus when he said,
    ‘fear not him who is able to destroy the body, rather fear Him who is able
    to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna fire.” This sort of fear seems
    to be contrary to the notion of the our heavenly Father’s love for us.
    Yet there is a type of ‘fear of the Lord’ which also speaks of ‘reverence’ .

    Jesus apparently quotes Deut 10::20: in Matthew’s gospel,
    “Thou shalt worship (reverence) the LORD, and him only shalt thou serve”

    When in actuallity, both OT versions in Hebrew and in Greek are best translated::
    “Thou shalt fear the LORD, and him only shalt thou serve.”

    So it seems to me, the type of ‘fear of God’ depends on the circumstances
    in one’s life, If we are threatened with persecution, we should fear the consequences
    of denying our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. While In our every day lives,
    we should have a holy reverence for God. “The fear of the LORD is the hatred of evil,
    pride, arrogancy and evil speaking do I hate” (says the Wisdom of God).

  9. Thank you, Msgr, for my daily dose of reality.

    You mentioned contemplative prayer and its necessary connection to purgation. I humbly request further commentary on this topic. I know ABOUT God, but very much feel I do not KNOW God as I should. I am amazed at the Monks (and Priests) who ascend into intimate contemplation; a foretaste of Heaven I have yet to experience. I have difficulty even imagining what such intimacy is even like in my utilitarian life.

    There is an amazing scene in the book Lord Of The World, (Msgr. Benson) in which the author describes Percy’s ascent into contemplation. It was the most stunning part of the book for me, as it implied an intimate glimpse into Msgr Benson’s personal experience with Triune God. I will never forget it. It has created a hunger for such a thing within me.

    Again, thank you!


    1. I know ABOUT God, but very much feel I do not KNOW God as I should.

      I feel the same way, and the anxiety this produces in my soul is indescribable. I sense an urgency that I figure out how to KNOW Him. Am without a spiritual director who can help me, so anything that Msgr. Pope writes on this subject will be consumed like water to a desert sojourner.

  10. Considering our sentimentalization and trivialization of God, it’s little wonder we’ve done the same to His angels.

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