I did a ten year stint as a part-time university chaplain and had the privilege of meeting and working with some very fine young people. Among the finest was Mike Blakey, who was tragically murdered in 2006 while working with a charity in Northern India. I’m re-posting this piece he wrote for my blog while he was still a student in honour of his memory. If you feel moved to comment, I’d ask you to respect that.
Before I became a Christian, one of the things that put me off was the doctrine of fear that I perceived to be central to the Christian faith. The promise of God’s love was often lost amongst the tyranny of his condemnation. I couldn’t accept and frankly, wasn’t scared by a God who, despite being a God of love, was also a relentless arbiter of suffering. When I posed this concern, people would often explain to me that God is infinitely loving, but also infinitely judgmental. This didn’t wash with me either, and frankly, it still doesn’t. However, in considering exactly what it is that brings us to God, I do wonder how many, in reality, actually live under the fear of suffering rather than the splendour of eternal love.
It often gets to me. You’re going to be judged. There’ll be no arguing; you’ll be cast into the ETERNAL hell-fire. Now, it’s to be considered, but is it to be the catalyst in your accepting the redemption offered you by God? If so – and I can fully understand how it can be – then what can be said about the intentions of a person who is effectively scared into embracing a saviour? Are they really going to benefit from the virtues imparted through God’s love? Are they really developing a faith, or simply a false conviction that removes the fear from their lives but does little to bring them to God?
Now, I’ve been in this situation myself. There have been times when, through listening to others, I’ve changed my ways as a result of fear of recrimination. Now, perhaps this is good; after all, I did the right thing in the end. However, this fear is a temporary thing, and it often requires someone to keep knocking it into the back of your head. It doesn’t provide you with anything tangible; it doesn’t emulate the love of Christ. You can keep a criminal off the streets by threatening him with imprisonment, but you don’t get the genuine effect that comes through rehabilitation, through getting to the heart of the criminal and allowing him/her to feel the errors of his/her ways. So it is with God. He may choose to scare us with a fiery death, but that’s not going to change the people we are; it may change our actions, but it won’t change our intentions.
Only the good news of the love of God, and the saving grace that is there for us to receive, can do this. Only by acting through love can we truly work for the glory of God, and only by living with compassion can we do justice to the sacrifice made for us. To preach a gospel of fear is to remove all that is glorious about our relationship with God, and to deny people the essence of the good news. God is love, and without fear, we should accept him as such.
That still gets an Amen! from me.