“God-Fearing Woman”


I watch a lot of true-crime shows on the ID channel. As I was watching one of them–American Monsters–where the wife of a nascent film director is murdered, I noticed the cop describing her on the footage from that day. He said “she was a good woman, a god-fearing woman.”

I’ve heard that a lot before. It’s a compliment, at least in many Christian religions. I don’t know about other religions. I’m guessing yes. Now, one of the first things that struck me about that was that once upon a time, the Puritans believed that God was angry and rather malevolent (read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, among others). By the Victorian period, that had shifted. God was benevolent. Except then, the world started changing beyond fast and a lot of bad things started happening in the world–wars, disease, economic difficulties, and so on. So the Victorians began to ask questions. They’d always assumed God was benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient. But if that was so, then how to account for all the horrors in their lives and in the world?

So now they wondered, what if he isn’t one of those things? Was he benevolent, but didn’t know everything? Or maybe he was benevolent and omniscient, but lacked the power to do anything? Not comforting. Or maybe he wasn’t benevolent and he was out to get humanity or punish humanity. Considering the possibilities, none of the options of what god was and wasn’t were at all comforting.

I think most Christians probably continue to think of God as benevolent but tough. I don’t think they consider the Victorian questions so much. So that raises the question for me–are contemporary Christians actually God-fearing? I mean, if you believe your god is benevolent, then why fear him?

Now, I’m not trying to get into a religious discussion here at all. It made me think, though, of fantasy worlds and the various religious systems and notions of gods. Even in our own world, you have pantheons of gods who are not particularly kind to humans. They are often jealous and petty, vicious and vengeful. They don’t necessarily care about truth or the why’s or how’s of something. They don’t seem to think humanity is all that important. More like necessary evils or fun game pieces. They are also often very present in visible ways in the human world. They might visit. They might turn someone into a pig or a hart. They might rape a woman.

When I plan a fantasy religion, I consider these questions:

a) whether the gods actually exist,
b) are they present and involved in the lives of humans,
c) are people afraid of them and why,
d) how did these gods come to exist and how did the people come to worship them,
e) are there other (competing) gods in this world,
f) do the gods get along at all,
g) how does humanity figure in to the strength or health of the gods,
h) can the gods be killed,
i) are they really gods,
j) how are they worshipped,
k) how are they pissed off or made happy,
l) what happens if a person crosses a god,
m) what are the core tenets of the religion surrounding the gods?

There are more questions, but these are the where I start. The answers will color the shape of the cities and towns, how people live from day to day, the economy, the legal system, and so much more. Consider it. Think about how religions have shaped so much of so many cultures. Of course, there might not be any religion at all, which lack also shapes the people and the world and especially the curses.

I think about the God-fearing woman. Did she really fear God? How much did that impinge on her daily life? Was she worried about getting smited if she misbehaved? The concept is open for a lot of interpretation and for someone of a writerly bent, offers possibilities for stories and characters.

I mean, what would you do if a god, or your god, suddenly showed up on your doorstep? What would s/he be like? What would s/he want?


Diana Pharaoh Francis writes books of a fantastical, adventurous, and often romantic nature. Her award-nominated books author pic francisinclude The Path series, the Horngate Witches series, the Crosspointe Chronicles, and Diamond City Magic books, and the Mission:Magic series. She’s owned by two corgis, spends much of her time herding children, and likes rocks, geocaching, knotting up yarn, and has a thing for 1800s England, especially the Victorians. For more about her writing, visit www.dianapfrancis.com. She can also be found on twitter as @dianapfrancis.


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6 comments to “God-Fearing Woman”

  • “God-fearing” didn’t really mean “afraid of God”. The original connotation was more “being properly in awe of God’s authority” with an acknowledgment that God could whup you upside the head if you weren’t.


    Those are an interesting bunch of questions to apply them to any religion, real or fictional.

    Tho my nonhumans would look at you funny and mutter under their breath that despite a small mythology and certain commonspeech oaths, their own gods don’t actually exist. 😀

  • I’d still argue that properly in awe means that a person should be afraid. Like being properly in awe of a tornado or a tsunami. Because you’re subject to it, standing in its way as it were, then you have to be afraid of getting run over by it. Or, as you say, whupped upside the head.

    Isn’t that a cool idea? That they have gods that they know don’t actually exist. I love it.

  • Razziecat

    One of my favorite subjects: religion in fantasy and science fiction! I love to play with these ideas, and see how belief or non-belief plays into the morality and daily lives of my characters. I have characters in my space opera stories who believe in gods, but their gods didn’t create the universe; they were created at the same time as everything else. Other characters in that same universe don’t believe in gods, but they do have a system that recognizes the larger energies of the cosmos and of life itself. In fantasy, I am all over the map re: gods. It’s fascinating to explore! 😀

  • It is, and religion is incredibly influential in a culture and it’s fun to think through the possibilities.

  • […] word’s Diana Pharaoh Francis covered the topic in “God-Fearing Woman”. The list of questions to ask when creating a religion are especially important. I lightly touched […]