Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Does Christianity Preach Fear?

part 1: The Fear of the LORD
part 2: NOESIS
part 3: Control
part 4: Secularism and Control (1 of 2 )
part 5: Secularism and Control (2 of 2)
part 6: Hell = Control? (1 of 5)
part 7: Hell = Control? (2 of 5)
part 8: Hell = Control? (3 of 5)
part 9: Hell = Control? (4 of 5)
part 10: Hell = Control? (5 of 5)
part 11: Selling Fear
part 12: Buying Fear (1 of 2)
Guest Article - by Genia Butcher
Artwork used in this series

part 1
The Fear of the LORD

Eagle Nebula - photo by Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (ASU) and NASA

Psalms 34:11
Come, ye children, hearken unto me:
I will teach you the fear of the LORD

Often times, people will claim that Christianity preaches fear because the Bible teaches fear. This series of articles will address the issue of preaching fear from several viewpoints. This article will look at the way in which the Bible presents fear, and what is to be feared. In following articles, we will look at the way in which non-Christians understand fear, their claims that Christianity teaches fear, and finally, hopefully, I will attempt to reconcile these arguments by demonstrating that most people simply lack knowledge of what Christianity teaches.

The Cosmic Sheriff

Many non-Christians attempt to portray God as some type of cosmic sheriff, out to punish those who will not get in line. For me, this is probably the main reason why people get so easily misled on how [fear] is presented in the Bible. I do believe that many people wrongly present God, making the claim that He punishes tit for tat those who reject him. I have great news for you! This is not what the Bible claims as how God interacts with mankind, while in this life and upon this earth, even unto this day.

While it is true that God does warn us of His final judgment and deliverance of sin, the Bible is very clear that God is longsuffering and that He desires no person to enter into condemnation (2Peter:3:9). The Bible teaches us that God is patient, in this day, to draw us towards salvation. The Bible teaches us that the judgment of the unrepentant sinner, the wicked (the condemned), is reserved for the day of death (Heb:9:27). As well, the Bible is very clear, Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2Cor:6:2). We will look more closely at this subject later in this article, but first, let us look at how God deals with humanity while [we] live upon this earth.

Matthew 5:43-48 You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don't even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary?

Matthew Henry Commentary states:
First, Sunshine and rain are great blessings to the world, and they come from God. It is his sun that shines, and the rain is sent by him. They do not come of course, or by chance, but from God.

Secondly, Common mercies must be valued as instances and proofs of the goodness of God, who in them shows himself a bountiful Benefactor to the world of mankind, who would be very miserable without these favours, and are utterly unworthy of the least of them.

Thirdly, These gifts of common providence are dispensed indifferently to good and evil, just and unjust; so that we cannot know love and hatred by what is before us, but by what is within us; not by the shining of the sun on our heads, but by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness in our hearts.

Fourthly, The worst of men partake of the comforts of this life in common with others, though they abuse them, and fight against God with his own weapons; which is an amazing instance of God’s patience and bounty. It was but once that God forbade his sun to shine on the Egyptians, when the Israelites had light in their dwellings; God could make such a distinction every day.

Fifthly, The gifts of God’s bounty to wicked men that are in rebellion against him, teach us to do good to those that hate us; especially considering, that though there is in us a carnal mind which is enmity to God, yet we share in his bounty.

Sixthly, Those only will be accepted as the children of God, who study to resemble him, particularly in his goodness. That we may herein do more than others.
For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Clearly, we see that God is not a mean old scourging dictator, out to hurt or inflict punishment upon His creation if we do not act accordingly. Many people have this idea that the Christian God is something like a traffic cop, hiding out of sight, ready and willing to pull us over the minute we have broken the law. The sight of a police car in the rear view mirror, sirens screaming, is indeed an intimidating sight. I wonder if anyone has escaped that feeling of adrenaline flowing and heart pumping fear, of that which could happen, and especially true if you have a warrant or you are a suspect of sorts. Do you honestly believe that God interacts with mankind is this sort of fashion? If you think this is true, then you have never cracked open the Bible and read it for yourself.

Non-Christians have this image that God is some sort of cosmic bellhop, drifting on soft white clouds, showering love everywhere, unable and unwilling to judge people according to their sinful ways. And so, this is the situation in which the claim of preaching fear begins. We will look at those issues in the next article, but for now, lets see what the Bible has to say about, fearing God.

The Fear of The Lord

Using my KJV Bible search tool, I quickly find that the phrase Fear of the Lord occurs 27 times in the Bible (1Sam:11:7, 2Chr:14:14, 17:10, 19:7, 19:9, Job:28:28, Psa:19:9, 111:10, Prov:1:7, 1:29, 2:5, 8:13, 9:10, 10:27, 14:26-27 15:16, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23, 22:4, Isa:11:2-3, 33:6, Acts:9:31).

Easton’s Bible Dictionary states:
The fear of the Lord in the Old Testament is used as a designation of true piety (Prov:1:7; Job:28:28; Psa:19:9).

It is a fear conjoined with love and hope. not used as a slavish dread, but rather filial reverence.

In the New Testament as a preventive of carelessness in religion, an incentive to penitence (Matt:10:28; Phil:2:12; Eph:5:21; Heb:12:28,29).

The Fear of The Lord means; to be reverent, to respect, piety, to cause astonishment, to be held in awe [2]. Isaiah 8:13 gives a good example of this meaning:

You are to regard only the Lord of Hosts as holy. Only He should be feared; only He should be held in awe. The Holman Christian Standard Bible

Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. KJV
The Biblical meaning to fear God is the antithesis of what we would normally consider, what has [caused] us to be in a state fear. From our modern vernacular, I could say something like this to help explain my point; "you scared me to death". When the Bible refers to the fear of God, we are not talking about causing sudden terror, or something terrifying, frightening, to be scared of, to be afraid of. We are referring to that which is, awe inspiring, awesome to behold; in power, in strength, in glory, in complete majesty, in total judgment; the revelation of truth.

We find many passages in the Bible where people have become afraid or terrified, but this is not relating to God's essence, that is to say, who He is. You will find when you study the Bible that there are different reactions from people when angels visit them, than that of people who have stood in the presence of the Living God, the Lord Jesus. When we are presented with passages of scripture which deal with angels, interacting with men, many times the visitation has caused fear; trembling, scared, frightened. When we are presented with scripture of the glorified Christ Jesus revealing himself unto men, always, the first reaction is described as; undone, unclean, corrupt, conviction of sin, Woe is me! We are clearly given different understandings when discussing heavenly beings, such as angels, than that of the glorified Christ. Here are a few examples to express my point: see also: Ex:3:6, Job:40:1-5, Ezek:1:28-2:2, John:18:6, Acts:9:3-6, Rev:1:17)

Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

Daniel 10:8 I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.


Matthew 10:28
And fear not them which kill the body,
but are not able to kill the soul:
but rather fear him which is able to destroy
both soul and body in hell.

Only God is able to destroy body and soul to Hell. Satan, the adversary of mankind, does not carry this judgment, only God declares this judgment (Rom:14:11). Therefore, fear God, for He has declared that our sins will be accounted. Righteousness demands justice, perfect love demands holiness. This is the essence of God.

The question which arises then, might be; how can I know the standard in which God judges? That is simple to answer; it is the Ten Commandments. Read those commands and ask yourself, have you ever broken only just one, ever? These moral laws were given to man to show to him that he cannot keep God's moral standard, which is perfection. This is to mean that God is holy and righteous, demanding perfect justice, and because God is perfect, He must judge sin. Our own human laws demand justice when we are wronged or when wrong has been done, so there is no difference. So then, the fear of the Lord' teaches us something that is simple and very easy to understand. The question is asked of you from God; Do you really understand and believe that you are a condemned sinner?
Job:28:28 And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
Now we have come to the heart of the matter. Why would a loving God condemn anyone to a place of eternal punishment? For sake of space, the subject of Hell is much more than this one article, so I have included an excerpt from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary, which gives a greater understanding on this important subject. I hope you take the time to read it.

Hell by Timothy R. Phillips
Objections to Hell. Hell is a dreadful reality. Just as Christ wept over Jerusalem, believers are similarly troubled and anguished by this destiny of the lost. Some have raised serious challenges to the reality of hell. One perennial difficulty concerns the relationship between God's love and holiness: How could a loving God reject forever the creature he loves? This question assumes that the creature is the highest intrinsic good, even for God. But the highest good for the God of Scripture is not humanity. Humanity was created for God, and cannot be defined in terms of itself; we exist to glorify God (Psalm 73:24-26; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:16). That is why Jesus insists it is idolatrous to enlist God as humanity's servant (Luke 17:7-10). Certainly God loves the creature; creation itself reflects God's free love. But since God's love is complete in himself, even before creation, the creature cannot be presumed as his one and only end. Nor can the character of God's love be decided a priori, but only by revelation. Consequently, Jesus' warning of the wrath to come (Matt 25:31,41,46) must be accepted as an inherent possibility of God's love.
No Left Turn From 4-6pm

On my way home from work I normally take the same, usual busy and congested street that I have traveled for the last twenty years or so. When I get to a certain location resides a busy convenience store, which is to my left. To get to there, traveling in my direction, one must turn left. At this intersection are three huge signs that are marked clearly, NO LEFT TURN from 4-6pm. As is obvious to any rush hour traveler, we know that there are people who think that this law does not apply to them. I'm sure you are able to understand the back-up that occurs as someone decides to go ahead and turn left anyway. Of course, the nice guy can do what most the rest of us do, simply go up one block, turn right, go one block and turn right again. If they did that, they could easily cross the road, in what I have discovered to take much less time than waiting for a lot of cars to pass, just so you can get to the convenience store with as little trouble as possible, in all the rush that modern life demands, for some folks it seems anyway.

I have come to the point in my life that frustration over traffic problems is useless. So, my point here is not frustration or otherwise. I am certain that the person who is turning left, knows exactly what they are doing. Yet, it does seem obvious to me that they have no concern for this law or even the mess they have created. Obviously, there is no fear of getting a ticket for this disregard of the law, let alone the potential for a serious accident to occur. Many times, the people directly behind them have no choice but to simply wait, while traffic is piling up behind them, now crossing into the previous intersection which has the exact same problem. So now we have congestion backed-up everywhere. The reason for this is because if we were to start blasting our horns, trying to notify the person in front of us to move along, the potential for an accident is certain, because one does not know where the sounds are coming from, or for whom the intended party is. Another problem as you might be able to visualize.

Yesterday, this occurred to me again. I did get stuck behind three cars, each turning left, complete with three light changes. It took me about 10 minutes to travel less than 20 yards. One cannot simply get into the other lane because traffic is at a 40 mph pace and so, you can imagine the potential for something there. Sitting in this line, knowing it would only cause more problems if I started to blow my horn, I thought to myself, why does this person think they have the right to do this? I mean, I am not wanting to shoot this person, nor do I think an eternity in Hell is a just punishment for such an action, but seriously friend, I often wonder what is going on with this person's thought process while they know full well what is taking place around them.

You see, the problem here is not a thought issue at all. It is obvious the person has considered what they were going to do long before they actually did it. In a court of law, the basic premise is; what was the motive. So the point is, what we are dealing with is a heart issue actually. In this person's mind, they have justified themselves to do as they please. By making this rational decision, they know full well this was their motive to begin with. So then, we can definitely say, it was from their heart to begin with as they turn left, thinking no one noticed. 'What do they care' seems to be my thought as I'm patiently waiting, stuck in a traffic mess that could have been easily avoided.

Now consider for a moment. This is not even a moral issue in which to contemplate. This is simply a traffic law, designed to help keep and maintain order for everyone. If a person is willingly to do something so meaningless as turn left without any consideration, imagine then what else they have not considered. That is why the bible declares judgment and the final place for those who willfully will not listen, like those who think they can turn left, simply because they can, without the fear of any life threatening sentence. In other words, it's only a $25.00 fine, so why not. But! If Hell was the penalty for turning left, would you still do it? Kind of a fearful thought is it not.
For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 1Corinthians 11:31
Two Pictures

As I close, I ask that you consider the two pictures presented in this article. Each are intrinsically revealing (Psalms:51:6). The Eagle Nebula, is an actual photo taken by Hubble Telescope. The other, an imaginative look at what Hell may look like. Both are fearful, both are revealing. One represents something completely and utterly awe inspiring, more than we could possibly conceive, yet we see the tremendous majesty and glory within that picture. The other, frightening beyond all devastation, the elimination of anything creative, anything that represents hope (Luke:19:10). Both will cause us to reflect, silently asking us to look more closely, to stop and consider.

I hope that today, you would stop and consider; do you make left turns at rush hour, or do you go the extra block, making right turns to reach your destination, safely, and in all wisdom. I ask that you would consider the following two verses. For, knowledge of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and wisdom is the beginning of understanding, and to understand, is that which God has graciously given to us, so that we may comprehend these simple things.

Psalms 19:7-9
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul:
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart:
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever:
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge:
but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Related Articles
The First Week in Hell by Virginia Marin
The Purpose of Salvation p1 p2....and....
The Truth About Eternal Salvation by Minnie Yamashita
All I Ever Needed To Know About Seeking God I learned From Jeremiah by Sylvia Cochran
The Offense of the Cross by Robert Hunter

Copyright Wendell Leahy
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