While driving down a country road, I saw someone in front of a house carrying a big stick. As I neared the house, I saw the man use the stick to beat a dog brutally. He was yelling and cursing as he repeatedly hit the dog. I cringed as I witnessed him treating the dog so cruelly. The dog cowered before the man, and he kicked the dog while beating it. I could see the fear in the dog’s eyes. I love dogs and seeing the abuse of this animal broke my heart.
Many people see God as someone who will treat anyone who is against Him with terrible cruelty. Some Christian writers and speakers spend a lot of time focusing on the wrath of God and how He will torture sinners. I recently read an article by John Burton titled, "Is it Time for Hell Fire Preaching Again?" In the article, he stated, "we need hellfire preachers to emerge and announce to the church and the world the reality of their situation and the measure of God's wrath and judgment that is coming. Contrary to popular belief, a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to the Lover of their souls."
I can't agree with the idea that a very real revelation of hell, of torment, is needed to draw people to God. Instead, I want to present a gentle God. In Matthew 11:29 (NCV) Jesus describes himself this way, “Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives.” Why would Jesus describe himself as gentle? I think we find the key in 1 John 4:18 (NKJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”
I’m not saying that there are no consequences. There is a judgment. Galatians 6:7-8 (NIV), tells us, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." But 2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) tells us that God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."
Does God use fear as a tactic to lead us to repent? Many Christian preachers and writers use fear. Fear spills over into our outreach efforts. We feel that we have to warn the world of the judgment, the Second Coming, and hell. Shouldn’t it rather be our privilege to announce to the world the Good News that Jesus is almost here? That we can all be ready for that because of what He’s already done before we were even born. That if we daily choose Him, we have nothing to fear from the judgment and hell.
There is no doubt that the world needs to come to repentance, but does God use fear as a way to motivate us? The Bible says in Romans 2:4(NASB), "Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" What leads us to repentance? Is it fear? No, we are led to repentance by the kindness of God. When we experience God’s kindness and feel his love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, it makes us want to love him. When we love God, we want to please him; we want Him to live in us and work through us.
Seeing God’s kindness towards us makes us sorry for the things we have done to hurt him. It leads us to repentance. It doesn’t lead us to fear Him. God doesn’t want us to fear Him. I will illustrate this with a story. One night a house caught fire, and a young boy had to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flames, smoke, and blackness. He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you, and that's all that matters."
In life, each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof. We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation, we will be destroyed by fire. Let me ask you a question. Was the boy in the story afraid? Yes, of course, he was afraid. He was afraid of the fire. Was he afraid of the fireman? No. He had to put his trust in the fireman. He couldn’t have put his trust in the fireman if he had been afraid of him.
Gentle Reader, God doesn’t want you to fear Him; he wants to save you. Over one hundred times the Bible tells us, do not be afraid. Do you see God as a harsh, demanding, cruel God or a loving God? Psalms 86:15 (NKJV) says, “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” Do you see God as a gentle God, a compassionate God, and a gracious God? A God who wants to save you. I hope so!