I realize a lot of well-meaning people think that fear will endear people to God. They pull out any passage that can be interpreted to terrify people, thinking that fear will lead people to holiness. Well-meaning perhaps, but horribly ignorant of the Gospel itself. Jesus taught us that only love leads to holiness. Fear will not draw people to God. It will either draw them away from him, or it will make them so focused on their failures that they can’t find mercy and grace when they need it most.
The entire Bible story was written to draw people out of their fear and feelings of condemnation when they think of God, to see him as a loving Father drawing them into his love and his reality. Look at Jesus. When he was among us he was not terrifying people with his power, but reaching out to them “as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” I am so sick of religious teachers twisting that story by pulling out those moments where God has to intrude into human history to preserve a line of salvation and concluding that they define his nature. His actions are still one intent on rescue, not destruction.
I emailed you last year shortly after reading your book He Loves Me the first time. I love your book! Since I read it, I am trying to change my perspective and “live loved”. I really want to live my life for God and do His will without fear. But I have a problem with different fears since I am a child. Right now, I am seeing a therapist for it (he`s not a Christian) and we are working on it. I think God is working on me, too. I realize His love especially through brothers and sisters that I meet and circumstances. However, there are still great fears in me because of passages in the Bible that I do not understand. They really disturb me and make it harder for me to believe in a loving Father.
The passages I am talking about are where God hardens the heart of Pharaoh, Romans 9, the story of Annanias and Sapphira, God trying to kill Moses, God saying he loves Jacob but hates Esau, the fate of Judas, the passage in Matthew 7 where Jesus warns that not everyone calling on His name will be saved, and some passages in Hebrews. Reading all these passages create a fear in me that God may choose to harden my heart as well, or suddenly punish me one day or make me “an object of his wrath — prepared for destruction” (Romans 9) – for I know that there are still dark sides in my heart, that I am far from perfect, and not obedient all the time. I really fear that I might get lost or loose my faith one day, that God chooses to do so because of my sins & doubts.
In this regard, I thought about Judas a lot. Did he ever had a chance? Was he meant to get lost since the day of his birth? And finally, how do I know I am a “real believer” and do not have to fear Jesus warnings in Matthew 7?
I am often telling myself Bible verses that speak of Gods love and that I do not have a Spirit of fear. I also think of your words that fear never does make anyone holy. I talked to some Christian friends about my fears and they said that we will never understand God completely and that I just have to trust & obey him. They said that “nobody can take me out of His hand”, but I wonder, is that true? What about my doubts and sins – can they not take me out of His hand? I am really trying to learn to trust God but whenever I think of those passages I feel discouraged and fearful. These fears make me doubt God and in the end, I do not only feel awful because of my fears, but also because of my doubts, which in turn increase the fear again that God leaves me/hardens me because of my doubts, and thus, this becomes an endless circle.
I am telling God about my struggles often and ask Him often to give me a trustful, fear-free heart, but obviously, it does not happen yet. I am telling myself that He is still working on me but sometimes I fail to believe that. How can I loose my doubts and fears and trust God whole-heartedly, knowing that He will not leave me?
It’s easy to understand why these passages cause such concern. It’s just like the alcoholic father who comes home and beats his wife and kids. He may only do it every few months, but if he does it at all, his family will live on pins and needles always afraid when he comes home that this might be the angry dad. I hate that religion has made our God look like that and creates an environment where people have to either totally trust God or be terrified of him. It isn’t honest and it causes paralyzing fear in people God simply wants to invite to know him better as he teaches them how to live in his love and grow in their trust.
Here’s what I wrote back to this young woman. Perhaps it will be helpful to others of you as well:
There are many more passages (even in the Old Testament) about God’s “lovingkindness is better than life”, where his faithfulness is great, and where his love endures forever. You’re pulling out the most extreme circumstances and applying them in ways they were not meant to. Of course it would take a while to drill down into all of those stories and explain what’s really going on there as a loving Father is trying to keep creation from falling into complete darkness and preserving his work of redemption in the world. His actions in these moments are like a surgeon removing a cancer that will spread, than an abusive dad blowing up in his anger. I recorded a video series (8 hours +) to help people work through all of this. I know that is a lot of time, but it is at least free. It’s called The Jesus Lens and seeks to help people interpret passages like these through the eyes of Jesus. It will help, but I realize it will take some time.
Part of the problem may be that you feel as if you must trust God whole-heartedly and never have doubt. Wouldn’t that be awesome? But it is also unrealistic. God wins us into ever-deepening layers of trust as we grow more secure in his love. Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith, because we can’t do it on our own. We all have doubts and God does not reject us for it. Instead he wants to be invited into our doubts, where we can pray, “What is it about your love God, that if I understood it, I would not have this doubt.” This is a journey out of fear and doubt into love and trust. It is a lifetime journey. You can relax in this process as he teaches you. Look at Jesus’ patience with the disciples when they kept misunderstanding what he was about. He gently kept inviting them in closer so they could relax in his love.
Don’t try to completely trust him. Just trust him today as much as you can. Be honest about your doubts and know that he sees you as his beloved daughter and he wants to teach you how to respond to his love and grow in trust.
I don’t believe Judas was condemned at birth. God might have known the choices he mad,e but he was not forced int to hem. Scripture makes clear that God always responds to the slightest attempts to look to him and follow him. Focus on those passages that demonstrate his magnificent love. Those that provoke fear, ignore for a time. Ask God to show you what’s really going on there in his time. But know that his perfect love casts out fear. Fear will not serve you today in any way God wants access to your life. Fear drives us from him not toward him. He doesn’t need it. You don’t need it. Your heart is his or you wouldn’t write the things you write here.
How will you know? Look to him. Watch how Jesus treats the people around him, especially those who are struggling to believe him. Listen to your own heart as his Spirit lets you know how the Father feels about you. You don’t have to trust what others say, or sort through competing conclusions from Scripture. Simply knowing him will make it absolutely clear to you.
I pray you will have the freedom to relax in his love. Walk in it where you see it today. Let the passages you do understand shape your heart, and put those you don’t understand on a shelf until God makes them clear to you. Do so again tomorrow and you’ll find your freedom growing.