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Tag: Fear of God

Seven Reasons People Get Saved

what must I do to be saved

Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners, alienated from God, and in need of salvation through the merit and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on a Roman cross and rose from the dead three days later to save sinners from their sin. Evangelicals believe in the exclusivity of the Christian gospel; that there is one true God; that there is one true path of salvation/redemption/conversion; that it is only through Jesus Christ that sinners can have their sins forgiven; that sinners must repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus alone to be saved/converted/born again. (I recognize that what I have written above trips over all sorts of beliefs Evangelicals are fond of arguing over. My goal was to provide a general definition of what it means to bet saved without dealing with the doctrines Arminians and Calvinists have been fighting about for centuries.)

Evangelicals believe that getting saving requires a supernatural act by the Christian God. No one can get saved when he or she want wants to or on their own terms. It is God alone who does the saving. Granted, if you listen to Evangelical preachers long enough, you will likely conclude that your salvation is up to you; that all you need to do is walk the aisle/pray the sinner’s prayer/sign a card or one of the numerous other acts of volition these men of God say is necessary for your conversion. Quite frankly, what Evangelical preachers call the “simple gospel” is, in fact, quite confusing and contradictory. (Please see Can Anyone Really Know They Are Saved?) Every sect believes its soteriology is right; that following its plan of salvation is the only way to get saved and gain entrance into Heaven after death. Instead of spending thousands of words parsing the alleged supernatural aspects of Christian salvation, I want to spend my time in this post delineating seven visible, verifiable reasons people get saved.

Geography

One of the most enlightening things for me as I restudied the claims of Christians was to look at a map of the world’s religions and realize that geography plays a big part in why a person worships a particular deity. I grew up in a culture where the world’s religions were neatly and precisely divided into two groups: True Christianity® and false religions. The same went for all the inhabitants of earth. Either they were saved or lost. Either they were Christians headed for Heaven or unbelievers/heathens headed for Hell. I was taught from my youth up that only a small percentage of people were True Christians®; that American Evangelicals were duty-bound to send gospel-preaching missionaries to every non-Christian people group on earth. Jesus commanded his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Billions of people did not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Saving the world required sending missionaries to the ends of the earth. I later learned that the “ends of the earth” primarily meant cultures that spoke English and would provide missionaries a decent standard of living. Most missionaries end up going to countries where Christianity is already firmly established. Of course, these countries didn’t have the right kind of Christianity, so it was up to Evangelical churches and their missionaries to bring to True Christianity® to unsaved Christians.

Viewing a map of the world’s religions was one of those moments for me that caused me to reconsider what I thought about religion itself. The map showed me that the world’s countries had predominant religions. It also revealed to me that states and regions can have predominant religions too. I came to the conclusion that one of the reasons that most people get saved is because of where they live. The United States is a Christian nation. Is it any surprise that most of its inhabitants are Christians? It’s all about geography.

Family

Another reason people get saved is family. I became a Christian because I was born in a Christian nation to Evangelical parents who indoctrinated me at an early age in the one true faith. I attended Evangelical churches for the first fifty years of my life. I studied for the ministry at an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college. While there, I married the daughter of an IFB pastor. We left college and spent the next twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. Much like our parents did, my wife and I indoctrinated our six children in the one true faith, passing on to them the family deity. It seems to me, then, that where I was born and who my family was were largely the reasons I became an Evangelical Christian and spent much of my adult life trying to evangelize people I deemed “lost.”

Personal Crisis 

Another reason people get saved is having a personal crisis. There’s nothing that can get your attention like a crisis. Countless Evangelicals trace their salvation back to a divorce, serious illness or debility, loss of employment, death of a spouse, death of a child, loss of their home due to fire or flood, or countless other tragedies we humans face. It should not be surprising that preachers use such crises to evangelize people. People are emotionally vulnerable and sensitive during times of loss. What they need, Evangelical preachers say, is Jesus. Jesus becomes the cure for whatever ails people. That why many Evangelical preachers evangelize hurting people during funeral services. What better time to preach the gospel than when people are weeping and wailing over the death of a loved one. Strike while the proverbial iron is hot, right?

Addiction

Yet another reason people get saved is addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction cause all sorts of heartache and damage. Evangelical preachers tell addicts that Jesus is the only “fix” for their addictions. And sure enough, scores of addicts end up finding victory over drugs and/or alcohol through getting saved. A religion need not be true for it to provide help and value to people. (Please see Never Underestimate the Power of Jesus.) I know numerous Evangelicals who were, at one time, drunks and drug addicts. These people reached a crisis point, and, having nowhere else to turn, they turned to Jesus. I know some atheists have a hard time understanding this, but the fact remains that the dead Jesus has helped lots of people kick their habits. People really, really, really believe Jesus delivered them, and from a psychological perspective, it’s clear he has. Whatever works, right?

Fear

Dr. Larry Dixon, an Evangelical professor of theology at Columbia International University Seminary and School of Missions in Columbia, South Carolina, recently said that one of the reasons he got saved was fear. In a multipart review of Dr. David Bentley Hart’s article titled, Why Do People Believe in Hell? Dixon wrote:

This is a very personal issue for me, mostly because I got saved as a result of being afraid of going to hell. If hell doesn’t exist, or if it is something quite different than Christians have believed (like, the purging flames of God universally applied), then I got saved under false pretenses.

Dixon is not alone in his admission that one of the reasons he got saved was fear. For those of us who grew up in Evangelical churches hearing sermons about God’s judgment, Hell, the Lake of Fire, and the soon return of Jesus to destroy the earth, fear was a common motivator for salvation. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:31: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. On July 8, 1741, famed revivalist Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Edwards stated:

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

….

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.

….

How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite misery! But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be. Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old! There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity. We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have. It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape. If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him! But, alas! Instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell? And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning.

You spend years hearing this kind of preaching, you will fear God too. Thus, it should come as no surprise that fear motivates people to repent of their sins and ask Jesus to save them.

Seeking Forgiveness

Some people get saved because they feel burdened and want/need forgiveness. Evangelicals believe that this burden is the Holy Spirit convicting people of their sins. Preachers will preach against this or that sin, causing guilty hearers to seek forgiveness. We humans are capable of causing all sorts of harm. Making things right requires us to seek the forgiveness of those we have harmed. Christians and humanists alike know the importance of forgiveness. Where they differ is from whom should they seek forgiveness. For Evangelicals, all “sinful” behavior is ultimately an affront to God, and it is his forgiveness they need. I know numerous Evangelical preachers who got caught up in all sorts of scandals. When caught, did these men of God seek to make restitution and seek the forgiveness of the people they harmed? Sadly, no. They sought God’s forgiveness, and in their minds, that’s all they needed. (See Is All Forgiven for David Hyles? and David Hyles Says, My Bad, Jesus.) The Bible says in 1 John 1:9: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Need forgiveness? Shoot a prayer to Jesus, and viola! you are forgiven. No sin is beyond God’s forgiveness. And once God forgives you:

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 113:11,12)

The Bible speaks of our sins being cast into the depths of the seas, never to be remembered again. Go to any Evangelical church and you likely find guilty unbelievers in need of forgiveness. They have committed this or that sin, and now their lives are weighed down by guilt. The solution? Jesus. He alone can forgive them of their sins. He alone can restore their lives and give them peace. Or so Evangelical preachers say, anyway.

Searching for Meaning

Most of us desire lives that have meaning and purpose. Evangelicals believe that non-Christians have empty lives lacking meaning, purpose, and direction. No matter how many times I suggest otherwise, Evangelical zealots insist that my life is shit without Jesus. Evangelicals believe that it is Jesus and his saving grace alone that gives them lives worth living. Why, without Jesus they would kill themselves, Evangelicals have said to me. It is certainly true that we humans want lives that matter. However, meaning can be found in countless different ways. Not so, say Evangelicals. Wisdom and knowledge begin with Jesus.

Imagine then, that you are an unbeliever seeking meaning and purpose and you are invited to visit a local Evangelical church on Sunday. You have never been to church before. As you sit in the pew, you notice how committed, loving, and friendly everyone seems to be. “These people have what I am looking for,” you say to yourself. The preacher preaches a powerful sermon about grounding one’s life in Jesus. “That’s exactly what I need,” and come invitation time you walk down the well-worn aisle and get saved. According to the Bible, you have a new life in Jesus. Your old life is passed away and everything has become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

My wife’s parents have been Evangelical Christians for seven-plus decades. Jesus, the Bible, and the church are EVERYTHING to them. There is no argument I can make that would convince them otherwise. Nor would I. Believing that the dead Jesus saved them and has given them a good life, a happy life, and is someone they can turn to now that they only have a few months or years to live is what helps them get up in the morning.

Did I miss any of the visible reasons people get saved? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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How Preachers Put the Fear of God into Church Attendees

fearful of god

Fear is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to manipulate and control church attendees. While many Evangelical churches are taking more of a relational approach that focuses on feel-good how-to sermons, hellfire-and-brimstone churches can still be found in virtually every community. These kind of churches are known for sin-hating, devil-chasing “hard” preaching. The men who pastor such churches take pride in the fact that their toe-stomping sermons cause sinners and saints alike to fear God. And in some instances, not only do church attendees fear the Almighty, they also fear the preacher.

There are two ways commonly used by preachers to cause people to feel afraid of God. First, there are the various Bible verses that promote a healthy fear of God. The book of Hebrews says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments. The Bible also says that people should fear he who has the keys of life and death, “he” being, of course, God. Then there are also various Bible stories that remind people of what might happen if they disobey God. Preachers remind church attendees that disobeying God shows that they have a lack of fear. Church members who are not regular attendees or faithful tithers are told that their disobedience reveals a heart that does not fear God. No matter the sin, according to Evangelical preachers, the root cause is a lack of fear of God. If people feared God they would do all that God commands them to do. Of course, far too many Evangelical preachers confuse their personal convictions and way of life with the laws, commands, and precepts found in the Bible. I have written several posts in the past about the long list of rules and regulations that can be found in many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. (Please see An Independent Baptist Hate List and The Official Independent Baptist Rulebook) These rules and regulations are little more than personal interpretations of various Bible verses. There are no verses in the Bible that prohibit many of the things that Evangelical preachers preach against, but this does not keep them from conflating personal beliefs with the teachings of the Bible. While many Evangelical churches have softened their stance on many social issues, plenty of churches still preach against “sins” such as alcohol drinking, drug use, gambling, mixed bathing, movie attendance, swearing, immodest clothing, long hair on men, pants on women, rock ‘n roll music,dancing, petting, and premarital sex. Preachers scour their Bibles looking for verses and stories that can be used to prop up their peculiar social and moral codes. Again, the main purpose is to put the fear of God into people so they will not do the things that preachers and churches consider sin.

The second method that Evangelical preachers use to promote the fear of God is the telling of personal stories that are meant to remind people of what happens when people ignore God and live in ways that show a lack of fear. Remember, people show that they rightly fear God by obeying God and the teachings of the Bible. People who attend church, yet ignore God’s commands, are treading on thin ice, and if they do not repent, God could bring judgment down upon their heads. Preachers often tell stories about former church members who ignored their preaching and stern admonitions, only to find themselves being punished or even killed by God. Years ago I listened to a preaching tape by Southern Baptist evangelist Rolfe Barnard. His sermon was titled, God kills people. Will he have to kill you? The purpose of Barnard’s sermon was to provoke church members to explicitly obey the commands of God. Threatening people with death was certainly a good way to get their attention. Of course, despite all the fear-mongering, most church members remained passive attendees who threw a few bucks in the offering plate and said, Great Show.

Evangelists were often the best storytellers. These merchandisers of fear and judgment use unverifiable stories about people in other churches who did not fear God. With thundering voices and apocalyptic pronouncements, these men of God tell stories about people who angered God, and He made them sick, took away their jobs, killed their children, or suffered any of a number of other reversals of fortune people face in this life. Instead of seeing such things as shit happens, evangelists see these things as signs of God chastising his children.

I vividly remember a revival meeting with Don Hardman in the late 1980s when the evangelist left the pulpit and came down to where the church teenagers were sitting. With a raised voice Hardman pointed his finger at each teenager, telling them that GOD sees everything they do. He then recited a list of the typical “sins” committed by rambunctious, hormone-raging young people. By the time he was done, I could see that the teenagers were fearful. I thought, at the time, that God was using Hardman to ferret out sin and rebellion against God. I now know that the church teenagers did not fear God as much as they feared Don Hardman. Or perhaps they feared being found out. Either way, come invitation time, numerous teenagers came to the altar to pray. I suspect very little changed for these teenagers, but by coming to the altar to pray, they showed, outwardly at least, that they had received God’s and evangelist Hardman’s message.

Many Evangelical preachers save their best fear-mongering stories for unsaved church attendees. These kind of stories are used to show unsaved people what could happen to them if they put off getting saved. Every Evangelical preacher knows of people who had heard the gospel and had an opportunity to be saved, yet they put off their decision to another day. And before they could be saved some sort of tragic accident happened that led to their death. Once dead, the sinners no longer had an opportunity to make things right with God. They should have feared God and taken him up on his offer of eternal salvation. But because they didn’t, they are now burning in hell.

I wish I could say that I did not use such manipulative stories and means to get people saved, but I did. I justified it, at the time, by reminding myself that the Apostle Paul became all things to all men so that by all means he could save some. What is the harm of a psychologically manipulative story if the end result is sinners saved from the fiery pit of hell. I employed all sorts of justifications for my use of heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories of human tragedy, suffering, and death. Believing that I somehow had to get people’s attention, I used these stories to force people to see the brevity of life and the importance of putting their faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of people came forward at invitation time, knelt at the altar, and asked Jesus to save them. Nearby, at the same altar, would be church members — people who were saved — who were also doing business with God — confessing secret and not-so-secret sins.

Putting the fear of God into people is good for business. Without it, I suspect many people would not bother to attend church.  Without fear and threats of judgment, most people would choose to sleep in on Sundays and enjoy a leisurely brunch before they turn on the game. I know I would. One of the greatest joys that came with becoming an atheist is that I no longer fear God. Since God doesn’t exist, I no longer have a need to quake in my boots at the very mention of his name. Of course, Evangelicals are fond of reminding me that there is coming a day when Bruce Gerencser WILL fear God, but I am confident that when that day comes, the fear-inducing God will be found nowhere. This God is little more than a tool used by preachers and churches to keep people in the pews and money in the offering plates. Remove fear from the equation and I suspect there will be a lot more Baptists at the lake on Sunday morning.

Did you attend a church where the preacher regularly made use of fear inducing sermon illustrations? Was his fear mongering successful? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

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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