I am saddened by how many people are afraid of God, projecting their negative experiences with parents and the Church onto God. Often we’ve reinforced these false images of God. I assured Susan her Father in heaven was different from her earthly father. I could tell she wanted to believe me but still hesitated.
Susan asked me, “What if you’re wrong, and I believe you and go to hell?” I replied, “Do you really think God would damn you to hell for overestimating his love?”
Susan didn’t leave our church. In the following years, she cautiously opened her heart and mind to the notion that God could speak to her and she could experience him directly. But more than that, as her awareness of God’s love increased, she began to suspect God felt about everyone the way he felt about her. She began to believe something beautiful about God.
Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 46). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition
I too grew up with the fear of God’s wrath. It frightened me even at an early age. The Susan mentioned here was a member of Mr. Gulley’s church who was struggling with the difference between God’s wrath and His grace. She feared that if she did not fear God enough that he would send her to hell. She was afraid that God would punish her if she gave herself totally over to his grace. Mr. Gulley had to convince her that even though something bad had happened to her doesn’t mean that God caused it to happen. Susan had grown up in churches that were heavy on “hell and damnation” and light on grace.
I know there are a number of denominations who emphasize God’s wrath. They treat God as this fearful being who spends his time damning people to an eternity of hell. Some say if you curse, drink alcohol or even dance that God will come down on you hard. To me these denominations seem to totally ignore Jesus of the New Testament and his unending love for each of us.
To me it is totally unChristian to ignore Jesus’ agape love so that those in authority can control the behavior of their congregations but that is just what seems to be happening in too many churches today. While Jesus had some pretty stern words for the clergy of his day he also showed his love for everyone else. Especially those who sinned the worst. I suspect that most of the “wrath” preaching is one from personal power rather than the love of God.
We will continue on with the topic of being afraid of God in the next post.