I spent a long time as a Christian. I’m able to look back on much of that time very fondly. I loved my fellow brethren, and I truly wanted to learn more about God’s will and do my best to follow it. But there was also a deep fear tied to my belief. I think that’s fairly common among fundamentalists, but it may apply to more moderate Christians as well.
Where did this fear come from? There are certainly a number of passages that talk about God’s love for mankind:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? – Rom 8:31
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Rom 8:38-39
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Pet 3:9
But despite his love, God can get angry too. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Heb 10:26-31
The scariest thing about this is that facing God’s wrath will be a complete shock to some people. There are those who think they’re doing what God wants, but are completely missing the mark:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matt 7: 21-23
What if you believe in Jesus and love God, but aren’t doing God’s will? Is your sincerity enough? This was a thought that plagued me when I believed. If some people would get to Judgment Day only to find that they weren’t acceptable, then why couldn’t such a thing happen to me? How did I know my beliefs were the correct ones? My brother and I used to talk about this a lot. Through study, he and I both began to think that a couple of the doctrines we had always been taught in the Church of Christ were incorrect. Coming to that conclusion was extremely difficult. Were we reading and understanding our Bibles correctly?
As an illustration, consider a minor passage: 1 Corinthians 11. The beginning of this chapter says that women should have their heads covered when they pray. But the passage is confusing. Paul says that since women have long hair, they should also wear a covering when they pray or prophesy. He spends several verses giving reasons why a woman should cover her head, but then in verse 15, he also says that her long hair is given to her as a covering. So do they still need a separate one? Most confusing at all, verse 16 says:
If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.
What does that even mean? Does it mean there’s not a practice of being contentious? That sounds like a crazy thing to have to say. So maybe he’s saying that the head covering is not supposed to be a practice if anyone makes a fuss over it. But that doesn’t make sense either. I mean, what other doctrines are given that caveat? Did any of the 10 Commandments have such an escape clause? The whole passage is confusing. What are Christians supposed to do? Either God wants the covering, or he doesn’t, but that passage can be read any number of different ways.
And of course, that’s far from the only vague passage. When you’re raised in a denomination, you’re taught to read the Bible a particular way. “Predestination” means something very different, depending on who you’re talking to. Who’s right? And what if you were raised in one of the groups that thinks they’re right, but to whom God will say “depart from me, I never knew you”? My brother and I realized how difficult it is to unpack all those preconceptions in order to clearly see the scriptures for what they really say. It’s scary.
Here’s the Point
But eventually, I realized that my fear was needless. The Bible says that God is fair, he doesn’t play favorites, he loves us, and he wants us to find the truth. Jesus said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7). If those things are true, then there’s no reason for us to be so worried about getting it wrong, as long as we’re sincerely seeking the truth.
It’s important to realize how significant that point is. If we’re really looking for the answers, then no question is going too far. So if we dig into the Bible and think “it doesn’t make sense to me that God would send people to Hell,” we shouldn’t run from that thought — we should investigate it. It’s okay for us to ask why God would command genocide in the Old Testament. It’s okay to wonder why he seems so hidden. It’s okay to ask why he would inspire people to write a message, but not protect the originals or ensure its accuracy. If God supports our search for truth, then all of these questions are valid. In fact, the people who pursue these questions obviously take the issue seriously. Wouldn’t that be more pleasing to God than those who never question what they’ve been told?
If you believe in God, then have faith in his character. Have faith in his promises. And take him seriously enough to challenge those who claim to speak for him (the writers of the Bible). Don’t let people tell you that you can’t question God whenever you express doubt about a passage. The Bible is not God. So show God the respect he deserves and critically examine the Bible before you accept the claim that he inspired it. If he’s real, he’ll be much more pleased with an honest seeker than with someone who’s too scared to ask the tough questions.