“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Prov 1:7
A friend recently told me she “could never believe in a God that threatens an unbeliever with hell. That no God is good or loving that puts people in Hell that don’t believe in Him.” They went on to explain how they could never be “intimidated by fear.”
There are so many people that see God as the cosmic fear monger, who couldn’t possibly love the same person He threatens with eternal damnation. How could God be both 100% love and 100% holy and just?
Is fear actually bad; does God expect us to fear hell and is this different for the believer and unbeliever?
Fear can be a very good thing. For example:
- In Arizona 2+ people accidentally fall to their deaths from the cliffs of the Grand Canyon every year.
- Over 50 people per year die from taking selfies.
- Over 500,000 people per year are injured, over 5000 killed, from texting and driving.
Why? Perhaps they didn’t have high enough level of fear to know when they were too close to the edge, or when they shouldn’t place themselves in risky situations. Fear keeps us from getting to close to the edge of cliffs, for wearing seat belts, and for getting that strange lump looked at. Fear can be a gift, not a curse. When properly utilized, fear keeps us out of harm’s way.
In the same context, Jesus spoke often of hell, reported by most theologians to have spoken more of hell than heaven. Just like the gift of fear can help us avoid death here on earth, fearing eternity in hell is a gift as well. What keeps us from understanding the gift is the seriousness of sin. We need to understand just how repulsive to God our sin is. He is 100% holy; it is against His holy nature to be in league with sin. He has no choice but to separate un-repentant sinners from Himself forever, His character won’t allow it. In order to have a true choice and love genuinely, we were created capable of evil and sin as well as love and goodness.
It’s not in His character to be 99% just, but 100%. Our sin requires His justice. Think of how our courts work here in America. If you commit the crime you have to do the time, right? If the crime is serious enough you may even be put to death. Imagine you have a business partner that you have been working with your whole life. You’r near retirement age and are looking forward to a long retirement. You call in your accountant to begin the process of selling your share of the company. As you work with your accountant you find that your company is near bankruptcy, your partner has embezzled all the assets. You file charges, and a court date is set. All the testimony is in, the judge announces the verdict of guilty on every count. Your ex-partner tells the court “He’s very sorry but has no way to ever pay back everything he stole.” It’s physically impossible for him to generate a lifetime’s worth of revenue Then, to your surprise, you hear the judge announce how loving a judge he is, how he just wants the best. It’s a small matter in the big scheme of things, like mass murder, so the “loving” judge lets him go with a hand waive.
It doesn’t make sense, but that’s how many of us seem to think God’s justice works. We think we aren’t that bad, that our sin is so small, but God doesn’t see it that way. All sin is major to Him and outside of our ability to pay back. Is 64:6 – “ But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness’s are like filthy rags.” It’s so easy for us to point to someone who has done worse. There is a logical progression in our eyes, however to God sin is sin, big and small. God is holy, that means He is 100% just. He must serve justice, or He wouldn’t be God.
So how did the 100% loving and 100% just God solve this dilemma? He found a path to fully satisfy His justice on our behalf. He loves us so much He sacrificed Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. He orchestrated the most horrendous torture possible, crucifixion. It’s as if the judge in our example said “Ok, you did a terrible thing and must be punished. I am leveling the maximum punishment.” Then he turns and to the bailiff and says, “go get my checkbook, it will drain me, but I will pay this man’s fine.”
That’s the picture, when we are unbelievers we fear our creator for consequences of our sin. Failure to acknowledge the seriousness of our sin, repent (turn 180 degrees) and place our lives in the hands of Jesus means eternal separation. We fear eternal hell.
When we become Christians, we fear God in the most reverent of ways, because He loves us and paid our fine. We turn our lives over to him not just out of duty, but in love, because He first loved us, and because of who He is. We place our trust 100% in Him and pick up our cross each day. We take our place with Him as faithful servants and heirs, worshiping and singing praises. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.” – Heb 12:28-29