Can you be scared into love? It does not sound that reasonable, you can be scared into paying your taxes but it is not all that likely that you will find that after paying your taxes you find that you love paying your taxes. Wesley Snipes is in jail for not paying his taxes do any of us really think that when he gets out he will love paying taxes? Often however Christianity has this mindset that says we first fear God because of what He will do to us and that through the obedience out of fear we will later learn to love Him.
Recently on the Adventist Today website discussion of an article on Hell one of the bloggers of the site said the following:
“My take on the “hell” doctrine is that if it were not for it, there would be no Christians. It is somewhat analogous to teaching/informing your children that there are, and will be, corporal consequences to willful disobedience; even though your strong preference is that there will never be an occasion to ever administer it.
Obedience starts with fear. As we mature and come to understand that the source of the consequences cares about us and knows more than we do, fear becomes respect. As the maturation process continues further, and we realize that we love and owe a debt of gratitude to the executor of the potential consequences, obedience results out of…love and gratitude.
If there were no initial fear of (ultimate) consequences, the obedience which always directly results in our good would never commence in the first place.”
There is something twisted in this kind of thinking, but the author of the above is probably in the majority of Christians. They see God in terms of crime and punishment. Obey or God will kill you. And if you obey Him then He won't kill you and you then become thankful that He won't kill you and you begin to love Him. Christianity as a sort of Stockholm Syndrome. After all God in the Old Testament is quite free with His killing. It is that kind of thinking that informs many people as their interpret the Creation story. Eat of the fruit and God says He will kill them. As the King James version says
Genesis 2:27 KJV But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die
Many interpreters take that to mean God is pronouncing what God will do as opposed to a natural consequence to the action. The more accurate New English Bible makes it clear that the “day” is idiomatic for “when”, after all they did not die on that day and no they did not spiritually die on the day either though you will hear teachers make such claims as nonsensical as they may be.
But this idea of death as punishment rather then the natural consequence of actions has powerfully changed Christianity. The cessation of life because one does not accept the gift of life given by God becomes God's punishment of death. Instead of God as the source of life they focus on God as the cause of death. But if one rejects the offer of life from God the natural consequence is death because God's gift is not accepted. The wrath of God then becomes something that God does to people rather then something that people do to themselves by their own actions. It is very understandable if one does not read the progression of understanding in the Bible. After all in the Old Testament both the good and the bad came from God. The successful blessed by God the sick cursed by God. The side that won the war was the result of God making them successful. We who read the Bible have to learn to read it with these historical factors figured in however.
After all there is a lot of confusing language in the Bible. If we took it all literally we could not mix crops or material in clothing, we would be killing rebellious children, adulterers and sabbath breakers and even as we kill them claiming we are loving them. That become the problem, we assume these kind of things about God and make Him to be as irrational as ancient human beings. Then of course to explain the irrationality we would say God's ways are not our ways or God is mysterious and we can't understand what He does or will do.
But is this what God in human form wanted us to do. Jesus wanted us to be friends with God, Jesus wanted us to move even beyond the idea of servants because servants do what their master says to friends who understand what the Master wants done.
John 15:15 NIV: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
When we look at the first sermon ever recorded being preached after the resurrection of Christ it has nothing to do with fear.
Acts 2:22-24 NASB“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. “ But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power
The good news, the New Testament is not about the threat of God but the salvation of God. Peter could have threatened them with damnation for killing Christ but he did not, he offered what God offered and that is forgiveness rather than condemnation. Love as a demonstration of God rather then punishment to scare people into behavior. You can scare people into conformity but you can't scare them into love.
The question we should always be asking is what does our doctrine say about the God we believe in?