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Sunday, October 29, 2006

What Scares You?

Aaah, Halloween is upon us. My good blogging buddy, The Beast, really knows how to have fun with this holiday.

This morning in Bible class, our pastor, Rev. David Petersen, made a good observation (one among many). He talked about how the general unchurched American views God. He said, quite accurately I believe, that people are not afraid of God.

This is something I noticed too as a parish pastor. I used to think that most unchurched people saw God as angry and wrathful and seeking vengeance against us and that my job would be to show them the grace of God in Jesus Christ. What a relief that would be! How our church would grow once people finally heard about forgiveness and salvation!

I quickly realized that most people (churched and unchurched) do not fear God's judgment. I wish they did, to be honest. Then they'd have a better chance of escaping hell. Instead, the average person today assumes without question that God loves them and that they are good people and He would never condemn them. Tony Soprano summed it up once when he said that the only people who go to hell are child molesters genocidal megalomaniacs. I'd say that's very typical. Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot. We're content to consign them to hell. But what about Ghandi or Anne Frank? What about you?

Certainly, if the standard of judgment is Adolph Hitler, then most of us really do have nothing to worry about. Truly, most people are better than he was. The trouble is that Hitler is not God's standard of judgment. He doesn't compare us to Charles Manson either. He compares us to Jesus Christ. And by that rule, we all fall short.

As a pastor, I know that many poor souls are indeed frightened and burdened with guilt. And even many of those who think that a loving God would never send them to hell really are scared to die. I was always eager to pronounce absolution and constantly pointed to Christ's accomplished work upon the cross.

But the message of the cross falls on deaf ears when the hearers are not stung by the judgments of God. Precisely then what is Christ saving you from? The Gospel devolves into just a generic syrup about love.

I'm not saying we preach too much Gospel. I'm saying we are in danger of preaching a disfigured Gospel when it isn't presented in the context of the threats and curses of God. The truth is, there is no forgiveness without repentance. Maybe a good scare from the pulpit would be a fitting way to commemorate the Reformation this week. That sounds really strange, but I'm hoping you know what I mean.

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Anonymous said...

Could it be that God is giving many what they *want* to hear, i.e.
Joel Osteen, Schuler, et al? Could
it be that there is a dearth of hearing (as in *not* understanding)
God's Word nor wanting to hear what
a poor, miserable sinner one is and
therefore God gives to those who do not fear Him "a taste of hell"--
as in, total separation from God's mercy?! What do you think?
Whatever the case may be, we know that God's Word does not return to
Him void but accomplishes exactly what He intends.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree with your idea that most people aren't afraid of God. I think that one of the biggest challenges to the church, at least in america where everyone is rich and has a lot to do, is not atheism, but apatheism (apathyism?).

As to how to scare people straight, I'm not for sure. I've found that preaching law that cuts to the heart is hard to do. Still working at it though.

scott adle

Rev. Paul Beisel said...


I preached a sermon on John 8 with those very thoughts in mind. Think of the Jews. They were slaves but they did not see their chains. This is the problem with many today. They look at themselves on the outside and ask, "What's there to be free of? I've never been enslaved to anyone in my life!"

Part of our duty as preachers is to show people that they are are slaves to sin. Otherwise, as you say, they won't see any need for freedom.

Darrell said...

I totally hear what you're saying. I think that the best illustration of how we should feel ... at least the best that I've personally seen ... is in C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia; every time Aslan is described as "both wonderful and terrible," etc, and when people say that fear him and yet are drawn to him, that he's fearsome and beautiful at once, things of that nature. Lewis does a great job of explaining in a fairytale the things that slip past us as adults. One of the things in my own faith that helps me stay focused is our act of contrition, in which we remind ourselves that the main reason to hate our sins is that they offend God. We should fear offending God, we have everything to lose by doing so.

Anonymous said...

Talking about the fear of God, I was reading Hosea earlier today and came across Hosea 4:5b--

"And I will destroy your mother."

Now, if that doesn't make you afraid, you're in trouble.

scott adle

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