Hell is being discussed lately, as a result of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Some of the questions people are asking are “Should believers fear Hell – and God?” and “Without the threat of hell, would people be good?”
It is good these questions are being asked, but I think they miss the point for two reasons.
God’s love and the new covenant
While the Old Testament shows that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), the New Testament shows that love is more appropriate than fear:
- Jesus said we should see God as a loving father, perhaps even as our ‘Dad’.
- Jesus treated most people with love, acceptance and forgiveness (the exceptions were religious hypocrites).
- The apostle John taught us to love God without fear: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18).
So we should move on from the lessons of the earlier covenant found in the Old Testament, and embrace that God wants us to respond to him out of love and not out of fear. And especially not the fear of unending torment, for that is not Jesus’ teaching either.
Grace vs being good
God wants us to be as good as we can be, but not out of fear to try to earn his favour, but as a response to his love so freely given. ‘Being good’ will please him, but it cannot make him love us any more than he does already.
However successful it may have been in the past, I do not believe ‘hellfire’ preaching is either truthful or useful.