A Little Stab of Fear

A Little Stab of Fear September 28, 2018

So much of what we hear from today’s Evangelical Christians is permeated with fear. It’s almost as if they can’t communicate the Gospel without referencing the wrath of God, or the threat of condemnation, or judgement.

As an example, a friend of mine was invited to appear on a YouTube channel to talk about differences in theology with the hosts. All throughout the conversation, the hosts continually threatened my friend and urged him to repent and even to resign as a pastor for fear of God’s wrath and judgement that was surely to befall him if he didn’t start believing as they did.

The other day, a friend of mine shared something online and said, “This article gave me a little stab of fear when I first read it. Still recovering from this kind of Christianity.”

I also run across lots of Christians online who communicate much the same way. They post things that warn and shame and threaten “sinners”, or anyone who happens to disagree with certain points of their theology.

Why is that?

Well, I think it’s sort of based on the filter they’re using. They still see God as the Old Testament God of Vengeance and Wrath. They see Him as a stern, demanding, angry, and mostly disgusted deity who can barely stand to look at us and is always one breath away from just annihilating the entire human race out of complete and utter contempt for us.

So, if that’s your view of God, then of course you’re going to feel the need to warn others about this big, bad, angry, powerful and short-tempered God who can’t wait to unleash His fury on those who dare to step over the line.

The sad thing is, this is the very illusion of God that Jesus came to abolish. He told us that if we wanted to see what God was REALLY like, all we had to do was to look at him. He even told stories and parables about how God was patient, kind, merciful, forgiving and most of all, loving towards his children – even and especially if those children were hateful, foolish, disobedient, wayward and, yes, sinful.

The most obvious example of this is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Here we see a child who is proud, greedy, and eager to get his hands on the inheritance that will be his when his father is dead. So, rather than wait, he basically demands the money now – because he literally cannot wait for his father to hurry up and die.

The father gives him what he asks for and allows his son to run away from home and live an extremely sinful lifestyle. Eventually the son runs out of money, finds himself broke and alone, and then remembers his father. He decides to return home as a slave, just to have a safe, warm place to sleep at night, and a hot meal every day.

The father is eagerly awaiting this return and rushes out to meet him, smothering him with kisses, wrapping him in his own cloak, placing a ring of honor on his hand and embraces him completely. He refuses even to allow his son to offer himself as a slave and immediately starts the welcome home party.

What we notice here is that the father, who represents God, is not angry. Not even once. He is kind, patient, giving, forgiving, and most of all loving.

This is the God that Jesus reveals to us.

Jesus also corrects that old testament notion of God only showing love and mercy and provision to those who love Him by declaring that God brings rains of plenty on both the just and the unjust. Then he says that we should do the same if we want to be like our Father in heaven.

Paul also affirms, over and over again, that God is loving, and that we are without condemnation, and that His love for us is higher, wider, longer, deeper, and more amazing than we could possibly imagine. He says this love even transcends knowledge. Literally, it boggles the mind.

Then later Paul affirms that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God: neither height, nor depth, nor angels, nor demons, nor the future, nor the past, nor anything else in all creation – that sort of covers every base, I think.

John also goes so far as to say that God IS love. Some want to modify that statement by saying that God is also a god of wrath, but John doesn’t say that. In fact, the scriptures never say that God IS wrath, or that God IS anger. But it does most certainly declare that God IS love.

So, even if God may be angry now and then, we have to keep in mind that it is the anger of love, not the love of anger.

I also understand that these Christians who embrace the image of God as wrathful and the God we must fear do so for a variety of reasons.

First, they have always and only been taught to see God this way. No one has really ever emphasized the character of God as found in the New Testament and as revealed by Jesus. Instead, all they ever heard about is this God we must fear, not the God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

Second, they have done a lot of studying about doctrines like eternal suffering, and they mix that in with all the end times scriptures that talk about the coming judgement of god and the “Wrath of the Lamb” that’s found in Revelation, and they take these at face value, without understanding that these verses are written in apocalyptic hyperbole and that Revelation is using these terms in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion not intended to be taken literally at all.

For example, when John says in Revelation that he turned to look at the Lion of Judah, what he actually saw wasn’t a lion at all. He saw only a lamb that looked like it had been slaughtered. This is how the Lion of Judah conquers – by dying, not by killing.

We also need to understand the “Wrath of the Lamb” is being used in an ironic way. The Lamb’s wrath is expressed by eradicating his enemies with the sword that comes from his mouth – the Gospel of the Kingdom – which transform enemies into loved friends and turns slaves into adopted children who are loved and welcomed to sit at the Master’s table.

But if you refuse to accept this, then you’re forever going to hold on tightly to an angry, vengeful, unmerciful vision of God. And that’s up to you. But, if that’s your perspective, please understand that it goes totally against the view of God that Jesus came – and died – to eliminate forever.

See, no one has ever seen God at any time. That’s what the Gospel of John says. It boldly declares that no one – ever – has had an accurate idea of who God is and what God is like. Not Moses. Not Isaiah. Not Jeremiah. Not even David who was a man after God’s own heart.

No one, that is, except for Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has EVER seen or known God. And, according to the Gospel of John, the reason Jesus appeared was specifically to make God known to us.

Do you know what this means? It means that before Jesus came, NO ONE had the right idea about who God was or what God was like.

No one.

So, if we want to know who God is, and what God is like, we look at Jesus.

If do this, we’ll see a God who is compassionate towards the poor, kind to the broken, merciful to the sinner, and quick to forgive people – even if they never even asked for forgiveness.

We also see a God who is very impatient with the fear-mongers who claim to speak for him. He not only rebukes them, he demonstrates a character that is 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the God they represent.

“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus says to them. “I desire mercy – compassion, kindness, gentleness, love – not sacrifice.”

Many of us still need to learn that this means.

My prayer is that, more and more, Christians today would know the love of God, and the God who IS love.


Keith Giles is a former pastor who left the pulpit 11 years ago to start a church that gives away 100% of the offering to the poor in their community. 

His new book Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.

He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”.

Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.

BONUS: Want to unlock exclusive content including blog articles, short stories, music, podcasts, videos and more? Visit my Patreon page.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Herm

    This is (the?) Good News!!! Thank you!

  • Marie Sheryl

    Jesus did not come to abolish our “illusion” of God. Jesus came into the world just to save sinners. Jesus came to take on the wrath of God on our behalf. He took on our sin so that we could be saved. He did what we didn’t deserve. If it weren’t for our sin there would have been no need for him to come and die on a cross. The God portrayed in the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and the same God of today. He has not changed and his character and nature have not changed. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) His wrath as portrayed in the Bible is in accord with his nature of justice. Paul writes “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed” (Romans 2:5) God’s wrath is in proportion to human sinfulness. It is a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil. His wrath is to be feared because we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It is to be feared because we are justly condemned sinners apart from Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). It is to be feared because he is powerful enough to do what he promises
    (Jeremiah 21:17). God promises eternal punishment apart from Christ, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46).

    God’s wrath is consistent throughout the entire Bible. God was not mean, harsh and wrath-filled and then became kind, patient and loving when Jesus came to earth. Neither of these views is representative of Scripture’s teaching on the wrath of God. God is love. His wrath is his love in action against sin. He does all things for his glory, he loves his glory above all. He rules this world in a way that brings him maximum glory. Because of this he must act
    justly and judge sin, otherwise God would not be God. His wrath against sin is motivated by his love for his glory. Many do not find this reality good news, because it is not good news for sinners. After all it is “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). “For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18).

    But there is good news! Jesus died for our sin so that through him we might become His righteousness. He shed his blood for our sin. What amazing love is this, that he should die for me!

  • The Mouse Avenger

    This is a very beautiful & enlightening post, & I thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    But I have a question about showing the love that God shows: Is it OK to show that love to people like Bill Cosby, or Clarence Thomas? My mommy & I have been talking about these men a lot these last few days, & we keep butting heads over what we think about these men.

  • Herm

    Marie, I know that what you just said is what you were taught by the traditions taught by mankind’s study of God, theology. Depending on your age, I might even, as ordained, have been one who taught you. This is what I taught as was written by John but was not quoted as from the Messiah, my one Instructor today:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

    John 3:16-18 (NIV2011)

    I didn’t teach the entire scripture as written:

    Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

    Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

    “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

    Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

    “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

    John 3:1-21 (NIV2011)

    Today, I carry my own cross in the example of my brother Jesus and the will of my Father.

    Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

    Luke 14:25-27 (NIV2011)

    To be a “disciple” of Jesus simply means to be a sibling child student of the Messiah, the one Instructor, filled with the Spirit of truth, the Teacher, by the will of the Father.

    There is no magic on the cross that washes people clean of their sins. I carry my cross today, 1,950 years later, that I should die for you, and the world, also. Mechanically, and symbolically, the curtain covering the Holy of Holies tearing top to bottom (Mark 15:38), when Jesus died on his cross, released our only possible salvation for the entire world, for all nations, the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit.

    “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

    John 14:15-21 (NIV2011)

    I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    John 16:12-15 (NIV2011)

    Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

    John 1:12-13 (NIV2011)

    Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

    John 4:23-24 (NIV2011)

    I only worship my Father, my God, in the Spirit and in truth today. All that I need do to inherit eternal life, which comes naturally when my heart, soul, strength, mind is fully filled (baptized) by, with and in the Holy Spirit, is the following:

    He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

    “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

    Luke 10:27-28 (NIV2011)

    This was true before, during and after the cross Jesus carried for you and the world. My salvation is not the study of God but is my relationship living with and in God without pause, without end.

    You are loved!

  • Herm

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV2011)

    You can love all the world even through the overwhelming pain our heavenly Father feels from those he knows who whose spirit seeks to destroy the world he loves. The crosses we carry, by his will, seek to save the world; all nations and all tribes.

  • jekylldoc

    Well, okay, I agree that Jesus came to show us the right relationship to God. But the emphasis on “NO ONE BEFORE” is overdone, in my opinion. I think Jesus was drawing on OT prophecy (such as the passage from Hosea cited by Jesus in your post) in which the steadfast love of God was beginning to peek through the clouds of fear and manipulation. Maybe Jesus was the first to put it all together (and maybe not – see Ruth’s story, and see Jonah) and see all the implications, and maybe he was the first to have such a close relationship with God that he could just listen and be brought to understanding, but the odor of triumphalism lingers around claiming such things.