Like the white tail of a fleeing doe is caught in the corner of a headlight beam, there is a fear, at odd intervals, that crosses my mind, almost gone before I recognize it.
"What if I, in spite of everything and of all people, should become an atheist?"
It's an old dread, the Fear of No God, the Realization of Nothing, that first stole over me in a Christian bookstore at the age of 17.
I had recently come to know God, important to note since prior to that introduction, my greatest fear was that He DID exist.
I must be unwittingly bound to consider the worst. In everyday matters, I rarely deal in worst case scenarios, because that extreme perpetually beats on the walls of my lowest mental dungeon. Consciously, it's warden makes no admission of those muted howls.
But the fear of nothing had it's humble beginnings in my earliest remembered nightmares, which featured exceedingly common sights, such as the the fabric of my blanket, in sudden and inexplicable dream like fashion, growing very, very large. Awakened by my own screams, I could never explain why non threatening, inanimate objects became sinister when enlarged. It was much later when I realized that it was not the size of the objects, but it's implication to MY size. Which was, obviously, that I was really very small and growing smaller (as in the dream I always was frightened awake while the thing was yet growing) and, if left alone, I would surely fade at last into nothing.
In Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, the protagonist, Gabriel Syme, faces a similar fear when meeting Sunday, a God type.
"The form it took was a childish and yet hateful fancy. As he walked across the inner room towards the balcony, the large face of Sunday grew larger and larger; and Syme was gripped with a fear that when he was quite close the face would be too big to be possible, and that he would scream aloud. He remembered that as a child he would not look at the mask of Memnon in the British Museum, because it was a face, and so large."
The fear of a man who does not know God is that God's greatness will diminish himself and that the self opposed to God will never cease shrinking.
My young nightmares are troubling because I was so young and still under the protection of Adamic innocence. Syme was a grown man and thus seemingly responsible for his unfamiliarity with God. But Syme was also a fictional character, representative of the yet innocently ignorant child: a child under God's protection is not the same as one who has eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and been bought back.
But with the fear of diminution, of irrelevance, there is something in common with the choice not to believe in something greater than the self.
Nietzsche speaks: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looks. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives; who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?"
Nietzsche was as terrifyingly honest as an atheist may be, grappling with the stygian fear of causeless effect, of meaningless existence. Yet, as honest as an atheist may be, he still does not recognize how deep the abyss is that stares into his soul, for though he says that "Hope, in reality, is the greatest of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.", he also insists that although "To live is to suffer," still, "to survive is to find meaning in the suffering."
Hope, then, is evil because it is false and yet meaning is still attainable. Such a titanically irreconcilable statement is understandable when you begin to understand that there is no such creature as a living nihilist. True nihilists are far more rare than Scotsmen of the same fidelity, for all true nihilists are dead, and by their own hand.
It is my personal belief that your greatest fear must stand as the gainsaying of your chosen purpose. Therefore, I believe that nihilists must somehow find comfort in utter meaninglessness, and be really terrified by meaning and purpose.
Now that I know God, and am found in Him, the fear that He does not exist is also the fear that the self I surrendered to Him will also cease to exist. In that fearful fancy, some dim and distant star is imploded which will quickly drag every ounce of meaning across it's event horizon.
C.S. Lewis imagined that Hell is a very confined space. In The Great Divorce, an inhabitant of Heaven explains the geography of Hell. "All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World."
As small as it is, it continues to shrink; a very intuitive speculation, corresponding conversely with Hubble's Law. Listen to the visitor from Hell's objection and the citizen of Heaven's response
"It seems large enough when you are in it, sir."
"And yet all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies, and itchings that it contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into that Great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific is only a molecule'"
Consider then the horror of being trapped in oneself, in one's Hell, the fate of continuing to shrink, but never to cease.
That is the fear that I face, that love has not yet cast out.
Logically, if God does not exist, the fear of Hell should disappear along with it. And yet, the fear persists.
Cessation, I fear, is the greatest myth of them all.
"He had turned his eyes so as to see suddenly the great face of Sunday, which wore a strange smile. "Have you," he cried in a dreadful voice, "have you ever suffered?" As he gazed, the great face grew to an awful size, grew larger than the colossal mask of Memnon, which had made him scream as a child. It grew larger and larger, filling the whole sky; then everything went black. Only in the blackness it entirely destroyed his brain he seemed to hear a distant voice saying a commonplace text that he had heard somewhere, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?"