Lately there has been a lot of talk about God’s wrath.
Is it really possible that God could sentence people to hell? Is there a never-ending state of misery, pain, wrath, fire and brimstone? One book, written by Rob Bell, called Love Wins answers this question in the negative. God is not about punishment, goes the argument. If there really is a hell then it is only temporary and meant to give us more incentive to fall in love with Jesus once we have drawn our last breath. God is love, so the argument states, therefore he could not really cast people out forever. My review of Love Wins: https://caseyhobbs.com/2011/03/17/after-a-fair-hearing-of-rob-bells-love-wins-caseys-thoughts/
The Problem with our Version of Jesus
We cannot maintain this position if we want to claim Jesus’ authority over our lives. He is the one who spoke about hell the most. He is the one who gave us those disturbing images of “outer-darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and a “worm that does not die.” To pretend that Jesus’ words are not as bad as they seem may seem to be very gentle and loving but in the end we will no longer be handling the gospel with delicacy. We will be crafting our own version of the truth.
Jesus, the one in whom all reality is centered, calibrated and based-upon, tells us himself not to fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. I always assumed the one who could cast into hell was Satan and I found that disturbing. I was wrong. God alone has that kind of authority. Now that can be a disturbing fact. I think that is exactly why Jesus said it.
Jesus makes us squirm a bit when we read what he has to say about life. As long as we keep him at arms reach we can admire his good teaching, peace-loving manner and roving sage qualities. The closer he comes to us the more unsettling he can become. We are very much like little Lucy in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, as she first hears of Aslan. We have been longing to be safe with somebody and we hear of a good God who loves us. Our first question is: “Is he safe?” We have forgotten the most important thing about God. He is God. By definition of his office, he rules the universe, calls the tides, extends them into cities as he sees fit, moves the plates of the earth when he thinks best.
We should listen to Mr. Beaver. “Safe? Whoever said anything about him being safe? He is a lion! No, but he is good.”
Love, Fear and Consequences
I think this is what the Apostle John was driving at when he said there is no fear in love because fear has to do with punishment. He is handling a strange, beautiful and mysterious thought. If we see God as he truly is, we cannot avoid being fearful. This is a good sign. He is a great King. He makes the grass grow and keeps us from blowing apart with the constant word of his mouth. We would be infantile and reckless to see this God and refuse to tremble.
But here is the turn of the gospel. If we start taking only the word of Jesus seriously we will hear that this God is for us. We will hear the story of Jesus becoming a man for us and living the life we should have lived all along. We will hear the story of Jesus dying the death our self-will has purchased for us. We will hear the story of his victory over the grave on our accounts. We will hear that he prays for us and is not ashamed to call us brothers. We will hear the story of future things, of his coming back to claim his church as his very own bride forever and ever.
As we submit to the gospel we begin to have our fear transferred from a debilitating terror of the consequences of our sin to a loving, adoring trembling before our good King. This is the type of love that casts out fear, not that we re-write God into our own image but that he re-writes us into his. This is a lifelong process and we need to be patient as he works his transforming work over us. We need to believe him when he says that he will be faithful to complete his good work in us.
We need to hear him when he says he is for us. This is a really good command.