The Love of God is so good and the worthiness of Jesus is so great that no other motivation is required, or even desired, to come to Jesus or to tell others about Him.
No treasure compares to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. No happiness compares to the joy of knowing Jesus. No beauty is lovely beside Him. No goodness is desirable beside Him. He contains in Himself, He is Himself, the reason why His people love Him. We are in awe of the God who became Man, who walked among us, the Omnipotent, All-powerful One who shared our limitations, the Perfect One who shared our pains and sorrows, the Life that was nailed to a cross and hung to die for us, and who rose triumphant from the grave.
It is not for fear of hell or any other punishment or suffering that we serve and obey Him. In His infinite mercy, He may use the fear of hell to draw people to the point where they will see Him and love Him; some have testified that they have come to Him in this way, and I am not one to judge how God may draw people to Himself or how people may come to Him. However, I know that Jesus is so lovely and so beautiful that once you see Him – no matter how or why you came to see Him – you will love Him and want Him for Himself. You will not want any fear or threat to motivate you to obey or believe Him, but you will scorn and dismiss all fears and threats, because of love – His love.
It is an insult to the love of God and the goodness of Jesus to say that people can only come to Him or love Him if they believe in or fear hell. Do you love your best friend because you fear what will happen to you if you do not love him or her? Has there not been, at least once in your life, someone whom you loved, and did not merely obey and pretend to love for fear of punishment? When someone suggests that Jesus is worthy, that He is worth our love, only if we are threatened with hell, then he is denying the worthiness and goodness, the loveliness, of the Lord. He is saying that God is less good, less worthy, less of a Friend, than sinful human beings. Absurd and preposterous nonsense! (If anyone wonders how I have the nerve to write these lies, even to refute them, then let him know I understand – to some extent, at least – from where he is coming, and I would never condemn his feeling, which is right and true: and his feeling may illustrate what is meant by the fear of the Lord; terror of hell is another thing altogether, and is cast out by the true fear of the Lord.)
We tell everyone whom we can about Jesus because we love Him, and because we know that He is better – incomparably better – than anything else. Whether there is a hell or not, Jesus is the Life, and He alone can fulfill the desires of every human heart – for He made the human heart to be filled with Himself. Whether there is a hell or not, people need Jesus. Whether there is a hell or not, Jesus is worthy to be proclaimed everywhere. Whether there is a hell or not, Jesus is so good, so loving, so wonderful, that we want to speak of Him unceasingly. (People share their interests, the goals of their lives, whatever it is they care about most, with everyone they know; Jesus is our interest, He is the goal of our lives, He it is whom we care about most, indeed, He is our life, the only thing that makes our lives worth living; thus, we cannot help but want to share Him with everyone. Even if we did not know this before we saw Him and loved Him – for He first loved us, enough to die even the death of the cross for us – yet now we know that life without Him is but a living death, indeed, that life without Him is hell.) Whether there is a hell or not, whether anyone ever goes to hell, Jesus is Heaven, to know Him is to dwell in the highest Heaven. So, regardless of what we think or know about hell, we want everyone in the whole world to know Jesus – we love them all, because He loved us to the death, and He loved each of them to that same death.
Thinking, “If I don’t preach the Gospel to these people, they will go to hell,” is very harmful. (Amy Carmichael’s own mentor said something similar: he pointed to a rock in a road, and told her that the thought, “I won that soul,” is the first blow that breaks the stone, and the last blow, and every blow in-between.) Such thinking places the emphasis on oneself and one’s own service, instead of on Jesus and His Love. Instead, we evangelize – that is, we share the Good News – because that Good News is so good that we could never think of keeping it to ourselves. It is as natural as breathing to share the Good News: we love other human beings, and even if we love them just a little, that is enough for us to share with them this amazingly Good News, this wonderful Savior! If people tell what is their favorite dessert, or which color they like, or to whom they are married, how much more will we tell of our Lord Jesus, so loving, so merciful, so mighty to save, so victorious over all evil, so beautiful! No threat can ever dissuade us from speaking of Him who loved us and who is our Beloved, for He loved us – and each other also – first. We might as well cease to breathe as cease to speak of Him; we might as well cease the beating of our hearts as cease to think of Him.
Besides, the fear of hell is a totally irrelevant motivation, certain to fail and fall apart. If you believe in Jesus because you are afraid of burning in hell forever after you die, what will happen when someone ties you to a stake and tells you to renounce Him or be burned alive? You will believe whatever they tell you to believe; since, after all, whether you will be burned for not believing (or doing?) something is (to you) the primary criterion for whether it is worth believing (true?). If you think you will care whether you burn for an hour or for forever, I seriously doubt whether you have ever even feared that you might be burned alive (or tortured to death in any other manner; the horror of your choice). I think very few human beings – if any – are capable of choosing the future (does the future even exist?) over the present (which most certainly does exist and which you must endure, for pain or for joy, at the very moment of your choice). (Or what if you tell people about Jesus primarily so that they will not burn in hell forever after they die? What then, when someone forces you to watch while the converts are burned alive?) Even so, even if the fear of hell were adequate motivation to perform exterior actions, it is not love if it is motivated by fear. There is one reason (with which I am concerned; there may be others, but they do not interest me) why Pascal’s Wager is irrelevant, which may be put in one of two different ways. One way would be the following: to bet on God’s existence is not the same thing as to know God, and eternal life is not a bet on God’s existence (however probable, even) but a knowledge of God so solid and so personal that you know God is Who He is as firmly as you know that your own self exists. Another way of stating the same truth is this: love is not motivated by fear of punishment or desire for unrelated reward (the enjoyment of the Beloved, togetherness with the Beloved is not an unrelated reward, but is the very substance and fulfillment of love), and, thus, it is impossible to choose to love God with the reason for that choice being the following: not loving God might result in incommensurate pain and loving Him might result in incommensurate gain; such would not be loving God at all, but rather trying to use a situation in a way to most advance, benefit, and suit oneself.
If anyone says that we should speak of hell and fear hell, that hell is a necessary motivation in the Christian life and the love of God, because Jesus spoke of hell more often than He spoke of Heaven, I reply that such people simply do not notice when Jesus speaks of Heaven. They do not know what Heaven is. The Last Supper Discourse in St. John’s Gospel is full of teaching on heaven. What else is the High Priestly Prayer in John 17 but the Lord speaking of Heaven? “I have given them Your Name, which You gave to Me, that they may be One, even as We are One,” to reference just one line; but the chapter is overflowing with such lines. In those several chapters, He refers to the branches that do not bear fruit and are thrown into the fire and burnt just once, yet He speaks often of His peace which He gives that the world cannot give, of the joy that no one can take away, of His people having His joy made full in themselves, of how He and His Father will come to and make Their home with those who obey Him, and many other words like these. Heaven begins on earth. Heaven is union with God in Jesus Christ, participation in the joy and life of the Blessed Trinity. Go through the Bible and look for references to that. When Jesus gave us Communion, He promised us Heaven. In the Beatitudes, He speaks of Heaven. “Blessed are you.” In the parable of the judgment of the sheep and the goats, more space is given to the righteous and their reward than to the punishment of the damned. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, is He not speaking of Heaven? What of the Good Shepherd, who gives eternal life to His sheep, and no one can snatch them out of His hand? What of the pearl of fine price and the treasure hidden in the field? What of the Truth that you will know and that will set you free? Or again, what of the place where He assures His disciples that if anyone loses his life for His sake, he will preserve it to life or eternal? Or again, where He assures them that if anyone loses things for His sake, he will gain many times as much – in one version, persecutions are included in the list – and eternal life. If I compiled a list of references to Heaven by Jesus in the Gospels, I would be sure to miss countless places where the Lord teaches of Heaven. He is almost always (maybe He is always?) teaching about Heaven: it is what He came to give us: union with the Triune Godhead through His Incarnation!
It is that union with God in Jesus that we love, that we declare, that motivates us: not the threat or terror of hell. He has saved us from hell and from the fear of hell, indeed, and His salvation is immeasurably more than that.
Copyright 2019 Raina Nightingale
One thought on “The Reason: The Love of Jesus (It’s Not About Hell)”
“terror of hell is another thing altogether, and is cast out by the true fear of the Lord.” – Super good! Loved this whole thing!
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