“Jesus’s primary intent is to produce in sinners a terror of eternal hell—a fear that would drive them toward repentance and faith in the gospel. Knowledge of that fear should motivate believers as well.” John MacArthur

WHAT? People don’t really believe that, do they?

I wrote a HUGE, emphatic NO with multiple exclamation marks in the margin.

I could not believe I was reading this in a book written by a well-respected Christian author on the parables of Jesus, that I am using to teach a Sunday School class at the church I attend.

The author uses the following from 1 Corinthians 5:11 King James Version to support his thesis: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.”

Then, after finishing Sunday morning breakfast with my father at our usual diner, a local pastor was conversing to anyone who would listen about his upcoming sermon on Leviticus 19 and having good morals. His opinions continued to the effect that people are just not afraid of God and this lack of fear is what is wrong with our society.

In our culture this misinformed and harmful belief is fundamental to why so many people are traumatized through abusive relationships, and why so many have a difficult time believing that God is Love.

The fear these pastors are perpetuating does not motivate or move anyone toward lasting, loving and trusting relationships with beloveds, much less with God. Their brand of fire and brimstone fear is instead a means of controlling behavior by manipulating the mind and emotions. The fact that people continue to propagate this devastating lie is in many ways central to what is wrong with our culture.

Here is the truth . . . the word “terror,” or “fear” in some translations of the above verse and elsewhere in the Bible means “divine or reverential awe.”

Being awestruck . . . the end of separation, Creator and created as One . . .

. . . like when you view a rapturously colored sunrise or sunset . . . or listen to a moving piece of music that envelopes your soul . . . or are mesmerized by artwork that captivates your senses . . . or the fresh scents of a long walk in the woods . . . or experiencing the miraculous birth of a child . . .

. . . this is how we are to be motivated to trust that God is Love and that He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

There is much more lack of knowing in the quote that begins this essay than can be explored here with these few words, but it is the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of what has been translated as fear that ignites my ire.

I don’t know where I read this next, so can’t give rightful credit for it:

“You hear a text from your own level of development and consciousness. Punitive people love punitive texts; loving people hear in the same text calls to discernment, clarity, choice, and decision.”

Or as Marianne Williamson says,

“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”

To this I say, Amen.