Do You Tremble Before God and Fear Him?

fear of God

Christians talk a lot about love. Indeed, throughout the entire Bible, especially the New Testament, we find a lot of verses that talk about God’s love us and our love for God and our fellow-man.  The most oft-quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Christians are convinced that God loves everyone. Well, most Christians anyway. Calvinists don’t believe that God loves everyone, According to them, God’s love is reserved for the elect, those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. But everyone else believes in the indiscriminate, unconditional love of God. Most people, at some time or the other, will be told that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives.

Certainly a God of love is a great idea, but unfortunately when we take time to carefully read the Bible we find that the God of love pales considerably when compared to God’s wrath, judgment, hate, and fury.

While a case can be made from the New Testament for the God of love, when it comes to the Old Testament, the God of love is largely absent. I’ve often wondered if some Christians secretly wish that the Old Testament had never been written. Their case for God being a God of love is much easier to make without the Old Testament.

When I read the Old Testament I see a God that any sane human being should fear. From the very first pages of the Bible we see a God that hates sin and has little tolerance for the foibles and faults of humans. According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and gave them one command to obey: don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So what did Adam and Eve do? They ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How did God respond to their transgression? He cursed them and condemned them to death. Not only that, but every human being after Adam and Eve was also cursed and condemned to death.

Someday all of us will die, and, according to the Bible, we will die because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit. A piece of fruit? Yes, a piece of fruit. God so hated their transgression that he cursed every human being that would ever live on the face of the earth. This God is one not to be trifled with and one that we should fear.

Adam and Eve had two sons named Cain and Abel. I’m sure you know the story well, a story of two wonderful boys frolicking in the woods until one day, in the midst of an argument, one kills the other, After Cain killed Abel, God cursed Cain and put a mark on him. As a boy I was taught that the mark God put on Cain was that he made him black. Again, a God to be feared.

Six chapters into the book of Genesis we find that God is already sick and tired of the human race. God is so upset that he wishes he hadn’t created humans. How did God deal with the sin and rebellion of the human race? He killed everyone, save eight people. Think about this for a moment. God killed men, women, children, and unborn babies. Kind of hard to make a pro-life case for this God. Again, a God to be feared.

Throughout the Bible, God commands his chosen people to slaughter others. Anyone who got in the way of the Israelites or refused to worship the one true God, God commanded that they be killed. Even among God’s chosen people, God had no tolerance for disobedience. When God had Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt, he got upset over their lack of faith and obedience. So what did God do? He made them wander in the wilderness for forty years and he killed everyone over the age of twenty. Again, a God to be feared.

From Genesis to Malachi the message is clear, mess with God and you die. The Old Testament God is a God to be feared.

It should come as no surprise that some people decide that there are two Gods in the Bible, the Old Testament God and  the New Testament God. (Personally, I think there are multiple gods in the Bible.) These people rightly understand that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are incompatible. Christians have spent two thousand years trying to make the Old Testament God and the New Testament God compatible with each other. Perhaps God has a split personality and that explains the difference between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Regardless of the reason, OT God and NT God are dissimilar.

Even in the New Testament there are events that tell us that the God of love has a real mean streak. What are we to make of the death of Jesus on the cross? According to the substitutionary atonement theory, Jesus died on the cross for sinners. The Arminian says Jesus died for everyone and the Calvinist says Jesus died for some people, but regardless of the breadth of the atonement, Jesus suffered a painful, awful death on the cross because of the sins of others.

Who punished Jesus on the cross? None other than his father, the wrathful God of the Old Testament. God the father poured out his wrath on his son, ultimately killing him. Think about this for a moment. Think about a father brutally killing his son because of what someone else did. Would we think such a man to be worthy of our admiration or our love? I think not.

The death of Jesus on the cross at the hands of his father is a poignant reminder that God hates sin and those who do it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the atoning work of Jesus, God would pour out his wrath on us right this moment. This is a God to be feared.

In the book of Acts we are told a story about two people who told a lie. Ananias and Sapphira lied about selling some property and God killed them on the spot. The Bible says that great fear came upon the people. I too would fear a God willing to kill over the price paid for a piece of property.

And then there’s the book of Revelation. From start to finish the book of Revelation is all about God killing and destroying. God uses the most deplorable methods possible to prove that he is the meanest, baddest son of a bitch in the universe. I’m surprised that a movie has not been made about the book of Revelation. This movie would make Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ look like a G-rated kids flick.

While many Christians want to focus on the good stuff found in the Bible, things like love and forgiveness, we must not forget that far bigger than God being a God of love is the fact that God is a God of wrath and he should be feared. Hundreds of times in the Bible we are told to fear God. In the churches I grew up in, the college I went to, and in my own ministry, the wrathful God, the sin-hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise then that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind, God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.

I am sure that some readers of this blog will suggest that I have a warped view of the Christian God. I contend however, that those who preach up the love of God at the expense of the wrathful God are giving people a truncated view of the God of the Bible. Most of what we read in the Bible reveals a God of wrath not a God of love.

The conclusion I have come to is this: I find little about the God of the Bible that is worthy of emulation. Why would anyone want to be like the God of the Bible?

Many Christians have learned to compartmentalize the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. Yes, they are aware of the Old Testament God of wrath, but they prefer the New Testament God of love. The Old Testament God is kept in reserve, only to be trotted out for raining judgment upon homosexuals, abortionists, atheists, Barack Obama, Democrats, and St Louis Cardinals fans.

fear of god clarence Darrow

Fortunately, the God of the Bible does not exist. Imagine what the world would be like if the God of the Old Testament existed? I can only imagine that few of us would escape the death penalty. Even Christians would likely be killed by the God who hates sin and those who do it. If the God of love really existed, one would think that the world would be in much better shape and that peace and goodwill would fill the land.

If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath and not a God of love?

For me personally, one of the reasons I left the Christian faith was because I could no longer square my view of what God should be with what the Bible said he was. When I stopped believing the fear went away.

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7 Comments

  1. Dale

    Yet I remember preacher after preacher telling us if we really study the scriptures of the old and new testaments that we would see Jesus was no different from jehovah. Damn ed if I could ever see any similarity, but hey, that’s what my preacher said; therefore, God said it.

    Reply
  2. Charles

    ‘If you’re Christian, I ask you, how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament? If you used to be a Christian, did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion? If you are a liberal Christian who focuses on the love of God, how do you square your belief with the fact that most of the Bible talks about a God of wrath and not a God of love?”

    Oh, I don’t know Bruce. No person has ever seen God at any time. So, no one really KNOWS whether God exists in any tangible, empirically testable sense. As you are well aware, it all lands on some measure of personal faith. Faith that He does not exist or faith that He does exist. And faith in what He, She, or It is really like.

    It is 3:55 a.m., and I am really too tired to think about this subject—and all too happy that Tennessee beat Florida today.

    I will take this up again when I feel better. However, I will leave you with two thoughts and one of my favorite video lectures.

    1) Have you ever thought about this possibility? If God really is perfect, then a perfect Being would not create a universe so quickly and easily spoiled and turned imperfect as what one sees in the Book of Genesis. A perfect God would make a perfect universe that is perfectly in line with his personal “definition of perfection,” and nothing would ever be able to change the perfect parameters that control that perfect creation—and what if that is the universe we see right here, right now, right in front of us. No Bible. No Adam, Eve, or Snake. No fall. Rather, we just look around us in our universe and here on Earth, see everything that has occurred historically and is occurring right now—and say that this is God’s idea of a perfect creation—meaning exactly what He had in mind from the very beginning and everything is working out perfectly as it was designed and constructed to do.

    My dad was a master carpenter, furniture, and cabinet maker. One of the things I learned early from first hand expense is that the maker of something always leaves behind some measure of himself—who he really is and what he is really like—in what he makes. In other words, you can know the maker from what he makes.

    So, if all that we see around us is the perfect work of a perfect God, then all we need to know to know what God is really like is to look at our world. What it means is inescapable from a purely human perspective. From what we see, God is quite probably the biggest, cruelest, meanest asshole who ever lived—is more mentally unstable than Charles Manson, Hannibal Lechter, Jack the Ripper, and Joe Stalin put together. Think about it. Who would create a universe with parameters like this:

    1) It takes 20 years to build something—but only 5 seconds to destroy it.

    2) The healthiest foods are the ones that taste like shit—and they are always more expensive.

    3) Give all men equal desire for a wealthy and comfortable life, but rig the system to where only a few people can actually do it. (sardonic, huh?)

    I made a long list of these one day—and noted something interesting—being the professional scientist that I am. Who would create a universe like this? My answer: A super powerful scientist being (or beings) conducting some sort of sadistic, insane, and totally heartless experiment with no real caring at all for the players in the experiment—like we conducted science prior to circa 1950.

    So. Maybe God enjoys war and gets a kick out of the blood and gore. When the lion extends its claws, rips the lamb’s belly open, and the lamb cries out in pitiful pain—maybe God enjoys that experience of the lamb and drinks deeply from it. Maybe God enjoys husband-wife fighting—and gets real joy when the husband blows his wife’s head off with a shotgun. Maybe God gets real kicks out of seeing a bus full of school kids drown in a flooded river. Maybe the way our universe IS shows who God really IS and what his definition of perfection IS.

    That is just one one logical possibility–as I have laid it out above. There are a number of other, possibilities one might consider.

    Okay. This next thing is totally unrelated to what I have said above—and is not intended as any sort of counterpoint to it. It is just one of my favorite video lectures that I really like personally and that hit on some of the subjects you brought up in your main post. I am a Christian—but I am not a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical. I do not believe in reading the Bible literally. I do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, and I do not believe that every word in the Bible was dictated or spoken straight from the mouth of God and God alone. I believe God is in scripture–but a lot of human things are mixed in there with him—and you have to study hard to dig God out of there. I do not take the Bible literally, but I do take it seriously—and I think that to really understand the Bible and read the Bible well, a person needs to bring a huge amount of other academic information (history, science, etc.) to the table when one reads the Bible—and you still might not end up reading it correctly sometimes—because of the all too fallible human brain filter.

    Here is my favorite video lecture:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9EhYVt-dyw

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Charles, I think there’s a deep philosophical point that you have hit squarely on the head.

      If God is perfect then has he always been so? I think the answer inevitably will be yes, in which case what was the point in creating the world, the universe, mankind? If he already existed in a state of perfection then, by definition, any change brought only a worsening of his condition, because there are no degrees of perfection. Perfect is perfect. ‘Nearly perfect’ is possible, but there is no such thing as ‘more perfect’.

      And even allowing the ‘perfect’ point, what actually did he gain? He created a universe with such extremes of condition that it took billions of years to settle into any sort of order. Then life came along, taking many millions of years to reach the diversity we see today, and for what. Hunger, disease, war, wanton neglect of the planet that sustains us.

      And they say you need faith to be an atheist! Please!?

      Reply
  3. JR

    I don’t think the God of the old and new testament are that different in character. It is not as simplementation as OT god angry and NT god loving. In fact the Old testament god kills people but the new testament god tortures them forever!

    I think it is harder to reconcile the God of evangelical books with the the god of the bible. Take the Sabbath as an example. Evangelical books say the sabbath is about the principle of rest and enjoying creation and family ect. But the god of the bible says in the pentateuch that the sabbath is holy because it is a holy day and if you defile it you must die.

    Reply
  4. Brian

    Thank-you, Charles, for Professor Keith Ward’s talk. When I was in the wandering mode of faith, I spent some time both attending and working for an Anglican Church in Toronto, Canada. I found the priests far more open, at least on the face of it, than any fundagelical model preacher. They welcomed women to the priesthood while I was there and that gave me more positive feelings about it all. I have always felt that had I been raised in a more ‘liberal’ faith, I might very well have endured as a card-carrying Christian for much longer in my life. I much appreciate Professor Ward’s rejection of Calvinist ball-busting, rather damaged literalism and his wide-open approach to Christ as at-one-ment rather than paying a price for my wickedness. I have no problem with much of that reading of the Bible.
    You say, at the end of your post, ” I think that to really understand the Bible and read the Bible well, a person needs to bring a huge amount of other academic information (history, science, etc.) to the table when one reads the Bible—and you still might not end up reading it correctly sometimes—because of the all too fallible human brain filter.” I am not sure I can agree with the need for such formidable preparatory reading/learning. What about the youngster who is growing up in a loving family, one where the child’s needs are being looked after and where the child is not exposed to cultish/emotional manipulation? I have heard a young person such as this react to Bible stories with the kind of ‘openness’ of Professor Ward, prepared to question, to accept and reject as the child pleases. I would hazard that someone who is respectfully loved, given freedom to accept or reject, allowed to be, is perhaps well-enough equipped to deal with Bible stories. Of course, as maturity allows, more and more reading is always a fortunate path to take!
    And when you suggest there is a ‘correct’ way to read scripture, I assume you are alluding to a personal freedom in reading and not a specific ‘educated’ view? Pastor Steven Anderson is busy educating himself daily and memorizing the Word but no amount of study will change the fact that he is such a damaged human being, he reads ‘love’ to mean ‘hate’.

    Reply
  5. Rebecca Rome

    Hi, Bruce, how are you? I sometimes still read your work, but have not commented for years. Recently my husband has been introduced to the teaching of Michael Hardin. I’m currently reading and considering Mr. Hardin’s book, “The Jesus Driven Life.” Mr. Hardin suggests that all Christians agree that since Jesus is God’s final word to us, so all Scripture needs to be interpreted through a Jesus focused lens. He believes that all Scripture is certainly not of equal value, but is like a “cracked pot” if you will, with God’s light shining through. He would suggest that fundamentalist Christians have a “flat view” of Scripture not recognizing this, or realizing how the culture of the time impacts the interpretation of the Bible. He believes that the death of Jesus actually puts an end to mimetic, retributory violence, and the anthropological concept that an angry, vengeful God requires sacrifice. Here is a link to his website if you might find this interesting. http://www.preachingpeace.org/

    Reply
  6. Daniel Wilcox

    Bruce, You wrote, “…the wrathful God, the sin-hating God, the violent God, played a prominent part. It should come as no surprise then that I had a healthy fear of God. In my mind, God always seemed to be lurking in the shadows waiting for me to stumble and fall so he could chastise me or kill me.”

    I’ve already explained in plenty of past comments how different our view of God was when I was a teenager at our liberal branch of Baptist churches–how our belief in the God who loves every single human with infinite love gave us such a completely opposite response, so will skip any more of that. And you probably remember, that after being confronted with the Calvinist God (similar to the OT God you describe), I verbally battled against such versions of God for many years.

    You asked, “how do you reconcile the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament?”

    I couldn’t. I was very upset at about 11 years of age when we were taught the story of Elisha and God sending the bears, and told my Sunday school teacher and other kids so. And then, when I was about 13, there were the passages for slavery in the OT. Really got me worrying and stewing for years.

    So how did I manage to keep believing in the God of love with all that contrary evidence?

    We got taught the irrational, highly suspect idea of “progressive revelation”–that God had to work with savage people and so did, but that his real essence is in Jesus’ emphasis of love. I NEVER was satisfied with that concept, but managed to hold the incessant dogs of severe doubt back, except when Calvinists attacked with plenty of verses from the OT showing their version was correct.

    I almost jumped ship from Christianity when I was 19 but couldn’t find any worldview that was better. I studied atheism in depth, various versions of Hinduism, Buddhism (even watched Buddhist Alan Watts every evening at 6 pm on PBS and read The Way of Zen)

    And, for years, I admitted (joking) I was an existentialist on Thursdays.

    Then you ask, “…did the Bible picture of God play a part in your deconversion?

    Not the major part. (I had, basically, rejected for all practical purposes the OT way back as a teen. When ever I was in an adult study of the OT, I found myself very upset and trying to do incredible mental gymnastic moves to avoid the plain text)

    My deconversion came when the Billy Graham Association, even some Quakers, etc. started emphasizing Calvinism. Despite with no where to go, I finally gave up, came to the conclusion that the vast majority of Christian leaders now and in history were, indeed, of the Augustinian/Reformed/Lutheran version of Christianity, so my own Anabaptist-Quaker faith was, indeed, (as one Calvinist lambasted) “an aberration.”

    And, you wrote, “When I stopped believing the fear went away.”

    Since I didn’t have that fear, no fear could go away.
    What did go away was any hope for “the love.”
    I realized that God, ultimate reality, didn’t love the human species.

    For many years, I had had severe doubts about this, but believing the nigh impossible had too many daily living benefits to reject the “impossible dream” (to quote the old Cervantes movie)

    Reply

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