Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fear Factor

I'll be dealing with horror topics through Halloween, with a brief detour to horrify Frank Creed of Flashpoint fame.

One thing you see a lot of about now is churches doing some kind of illustrated sermon about Hell in place of the old haunted house project. There's a slight point to that: they show you how obnoxious Hell is, and maybe you'll repent. Not as likely to happen with a haunted house.


Although Jesus did refer to Hell more than most moderns think, he didn't go into detail very much. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 is about as graphic as he gets, and that only says that the rich man is tormented by fire. Elsewhere he mostly just warns us that Hell exists and leaves it at that. Why don't we?

To begin with, we like to be scared, and Hell is a scare you can feel good about. I went to a church once that gave a dramatic presentation wherein people died and went to Heaven or Hell. The piece was at least three times longer than necessary, given that most of the individual vignettes were interchangeable. Worse, Jesus popped out like a character from a game show to tell the lucky contestant what he'd won. You know something's wrong when the demons have better stage presence than the Son of God. As I recall, I originally concluded that only about five or six of the skits were fairly good, which would've cut the time down to half an hour or so. (After sitting through the whole thing, I believed in Hell in a way the writers didn't intend.)

Did it work? Yes, remarkably well. So well, in fact, that when the church had a second presentation about a year later, a lot of the people who got saved at the first one got saved again.

Today's Free Clue: Salvation involves faith in God and love for him. Fear is opposed to both. Sure, we're supposed to "fear" God reverently and based on the fact that he is a consuming fire. But that's fearing who he is, not fearing for our lives.

Fear can lead to a very shallow commitment, and sometimes, by the grace of God, that develops into something deeper. But Jesus and the apostles generally gave their audience a greater scare by confronting them with their sinfulness and need for God. They also used miracles to show that God was willing to help them out--he's not looking for an excuse to throw people into Hell. He already has that.

We'll look at the problem tendency to focus more on fear and evil than on God later this week.

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