“Do not fear God who wishes you no harm, but love God a great deal who wishes you so much good.”
“Do not fear God who wishes you no harm, but love God a great deal who wishes you so much good.” – Frances De Sales
So many people’s faith is rooted in a fear of God. God is seen as the punisher, the one who must be obeyed in fear and trembling, who watches us with a severe and critical eye, ready to pounce on our every error with a terrible and just fury. This is the faith of a child under the rule of a severe, disciplinary parent. There is nothing free in it, nothing joyous.
But God made us to be free. He wants us to follow him out of that freedom. He wants us to love him out of that freedom. He wants us to be obedient, not because we fear punishment, but because we understand the wisdom of virtuous character. He gave us both wit and will and desires that we use them both; one to come to know him as the loving, merciful and infinitely caring God of creation, the other to choose the good out of our freedom, not because we were ordered to.
Yes, there are laws to be followed. But they can also be broken. He wants us to follow the laws of our conscience freely, but we can only do this willingly when we know what they are, why they are, and what consequences will arise from following them, or from going against them.
There is an old saying, “Love is what we are born with an fear is what we have learned here.” Some of those fears are realistic, rooted in our experiences. But to fear that, because we have done something wrong, God is angry with us and will hold it against us, is not realistic. In fact it is not right thinking about the nature of God. How do we know this? We know it because of the most important event in all of history, the incarnation of Jesus.
Though we were in the midst of our sin, God let go of his divinity and came into the world, through a woman, becoming like one of us even unto death on a cross. (Phillipians 2) He did this out of his love for us. Though we often turn away from him, he never abandons us. He is our Prodigal Father. When we turn back to him, even though we are, like the Prodigal Son, covered in the dirt of our own sin, he embraces us, puts the family ring back on our finger, dresses us in new garments cleanses us with his forgiveness and welcomes us back into the house with unconditional joy. “My son (daughter) was lost, but now he is found.”
The God we see in the Old Testament is God seen from the view of children, needing to be told what to do, who need to be guided with a seemingly stern rod. But the God we encounter in Jesus is understood from the view of an adult. The adult freely chooses to follow, and to submit to the will of God because he or she has come to know in his or her heart and mind that Jesus really is the one and only Way, the one and only Truth, and the one and only Life worth following.
The God revealed in Jesus never forces us to do anything; he invites us. He never imposes his way on us, he simply proposes it to us and then he allows us to say yea, or nay to the proposal.
Of course to say nay to such a proposal is foolishness. One condemns one’s self in doing so, and God, in his omnipotence, accepts our free choices absolutely. He gave us free will as an absolute gift. He will not take away what he has given. What we do with it he leaves entirely up to us. One can imagine, if it were possible to give human emotions to God, that he suffers an infinite depth of sadness when we willfully refuse his love. On the other hand we can imagine his joy is complete when we turn toward the warmth and light of his love and return that love to him in our thankful praise.
One of Jesus’ most common phrases in the Gospels is “Do not be afraid.” This is not just a gesture of mannerly kindness on his part. He is telling us that there is nothing to be afraid of because he is with us. He is on our side. God is love sustaining us through all the difficult times that come to us unbidden, even those that are the result of our own errors. He has shown the depth of his love for us by his willingness to suffer and to die for us on the cross. By this act he has shown his love for us is full of mercy.
The saving factor is that God desires to be in a relationship with us, a relationship that we freely choose, not one out of fearful submission to some angry and punishing being in the sky.
To know that God has made us free, and that he did this in his infinite wisdom, is reason enough to have no fear of him. We may legitimately fear the consequences of our choices, if they are in defiance of God’s love for us, but those consequences will be the result of our defiant wills, not of God’s will.
God wants our acceptance of his love, but he, in his omnipotence cannot, will not take away our freedom. He will support us in our freedom with grace if we choose to be open to it. He will never stint on his generosity with his grace either. His will is that we live forever with him in heaven. It is ours to choose or to lose heaven then. If we choose heaven there is nothing to fear. If we choose hell there is everything to fear.