A few years ago this happened.
A tree fell on our house, smashing the roof over the garage. One of those events that was all-consuming on that day, but now we look back and think, eh.
Luckily, things went pretty smoothly from there. We have great coverage, and the insurance company was very responsive. We called our agent, and within the day there was a big blue tarp on our house. Soon after a contractor came out, danced with the adjuster, and construction began soon after. Within two weeks you couldn’t tell that anything had happened.
I’ve never had lunch with my insurance agent. He’s never been to my kids’ birthday parties. We don’t exchange Christmas cards. I pay my premiums faithfully. I know where the declarations are, and I keep the auto card in my car. But that’s as far as it goes. That’s as far as I need it to go. This is a healthy relationship.
Between insurance agent and client, this relationship works. The problem comes when we transfer this set of expectations onto other relationships.
Some people define a relationship with God in these same terms. An insurance policy. You better have one, because you’re going to need it one day. And when that day comes, you want to make sure you’re covered. If you try to get covered after you need it, it’s not going to work, so you better get a policy now. Trust me. You don’t want to get caught without the card. Huge penalties. HUGE!
Intimidation and fear is used to coerce you into believing.
It might work. It might. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t really work. This approach may lead to obedience, adherence to a set of behavioral expectations, but that’s about as far as it will go.
If those of us who believe would like others to experience what we do; if we want others to have the fullness that we believe comes from God, then we need to stop trying to scare people into believing. Fear may lead to obedience, but not to love.
Yes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” is written in the Bible (Proverbs 9:10). However, it’s important to examine what the “fear” is that the writer is talking about. Fear in this sense is not about being afraid; it’s about being in awe. The closest parallel experience I can offer is this. When I go to the beach, I stand at the edge of the water. My feet are in the wet sand, and I look out toward the horizon, recognizing just how large that body of water is, and I get a chill. I’m in no danger. I’m not even all the way in the water. But I recognize that I am in the presence of something mysterious and powerful. That’s the fear of the Lord, recognizing you are in the presence of mystery and power, not in the presence of a deity who can’t wait to kill you.
God is not looking for you to be afraid of God. God is so much bigger than that. So much better. There is a better way to talk about God.