Says the Proverb.
The critics of Christianity like to say, “Oh, I would rather choose to do good than be forced to do good out of the fear of hell.” That’s very nice, but what usually happens is that they don’t actually do much good because they don’t actually make that choice. It’s like the people who complain about the church spending money on fancy vestments instead of feeding the poor. In my experience the critics don’t spend money on either the vestments or feeding the poor.
Sometimes the atheists will say, “Doing good because you are afraid that your sky God will zap you are make you burn forever in fire is not such a fine thing.” That’s not actually what we believe about God or the judgement or hellfire or heaven, but even if it were I would not be ashamed of it. I would rather be scared into heaven than lulled into hell.
Why do people think fear is such a poor motivator? Fear is a very able and acceptable motivator for us in many decisions of life. You buy insurance out of fear. You fasten your safety belt out of fear. You avoid cliff tops out of fear. You keep a fire extinguisher, a smoke alarm and a sprinkler system out of fear. In fact, in our paranoid age we operate out of fear more than ever. We have extreme child protection programs out of fear. We ban diving boards at the pool out of fear. We keep our kids inside out of fear.
What’s wrong therefore with a bit of fear as a spiritual motivator. One of the best sermons I ever heard on hell was by Father Paul–a heavyset priest in South Carolina who stepped up to the pulpit on a Sunday in August sweating like crazy. He said, “Brothers and sisters, my air conditioning broke down this week and all I can say for a sermon this week is “Fear Hell”. Then he sat down.
I believe in hell and I fear hell. I also fear hell for the people I love. That’s why I warn them about hell–just like I warn my children about dangerous choices and dangerous places. I don’t want them to be hurt or maimed or killed. So I warn them about the dangers. When my boy rides the motorcycle I say, “Be afraid. Be very afraid. Fear the motorcycle.” When my boys use the chainsaw I say, “Be afraid of that chainsaw. Envision what it would do to your arm or your hand.” Fear like that is healthy. Fear like that is a good thing.
Therefore fear hell.
Fear God too. Our God is a consuming fire. Aslan is not a tame lion. He is the righteous judge. Do you not fear to face him? If you do not then you are a fool.
Stop. There’s more. The Bible says “the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
The beginning. Not the end.
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. That fear must develop into a sense of awe, and the sense of awe must develop into a deep respect and the deep respect must grow into a longing for God and the longing for God must grow into the encounter with God and the encounter with God must grow into the love for God and the love for God must grow into the union of the soul with God. That is the end of wisdom, but the beginning is the fear of God.
So fear hell in order to love heaven. Fear the dark to love the light. Fear the cold to love the warmth. Fear the hatred to love the Love. Fear the Lord to love the Lord.