How Fearing God Changes Everything
A worldview is organized by a guiding passion, supreme goal, telos or desire. There is also a guiding fear which is the opposite of the guiding passion.
For humanism, the supreme good is “the greatest good for humanity.” How “humanity” is defined will depend on the individual. Sometimes it is one race, or country. Sometimes it is one family, or even one individual. However, human happiness is always the chief end. It follows, then, that human unhappiness or misfortune is the least desirable outcome, or the greatest fear.
Within Biblical Christianity, the greatest good is that God is glorified, and that His creation is enraptured with His beauty – or, as the Westminster Catechism puts it – “the greatest good is for humanity to worship and enjoy God forever.” The greatest fear is to not be part of worshipping God, to be cut off from His presence forever in Hell. Or, just short of this, to endure His discipline over any areas of sin in our lives.
Now, Christianity and Humanism have a significant amount of overlap. It is almost possible to preach Christ within the worldview of humanism. Both humanists and Christians believe in medical advances, equality of wealth, racial equality, and especially the dignity of human life. On many points of ethics, we are also in agreement. We both preach against lies, theft, murder, hatred, anger and violence.
Sexual ethics, however, is a topic where the two paths begin to diverge. For the humanist, the greatest good is human happiness. For this reason, it becomes very difficult to persuade one that immorality is “wrong.” To the humanist, this seems like a contradiction of terms. How can it be wrong, and also pleasurable? That which is pleasurable contributes to that all-important “quality of life,” and is thus “good.” Thus, immorality is “good” to the humanist. As the saying goes, “how can it be wrong if it feels so right?”
The Christian who is enthralled by the fear of God truly desires to live a life of holiness because it honors the God he loves to fear. The humanist, on the other hand, will live in morality to some extent. However, his desire is only to maximize his own, and sometimes society’s good. For example, he knows that if he is not careful he will earn himself the title of “player” or even “pervert.” Such names will follow him for a lifetime – so fear of man enters into the picture to keep his actions within the appropriate boundaries. He may also be compelled by a desire not to hurt a tender woman’s heart. But no doubt if he could get away with immorality, he would. Pornography is a no-brainer: “It feels good, it doesn’t hurt anybody, so why not?” he reasons.
However, how could he ever be compelled to bring his actions to the extremes that Jesus mandates? To not even lust after a woman, even in the secret recesses of his own heart? (Mat. 5:28). “Why shouldn’t I?” He will ask, “Who do my hidden thoughts hurt? Actually this teaching hurts me because it denies me pleasure!”
You may respond, “Yes, but God is not pleased by your lust.”
To the unredeemed person, this appears as nonsense. Who is this God, that we should fear Him? (Exod. 5:2) What right does He have to impose His will upon us? Why should we care what He thinks – if He even exists!
“Reasonable people,” he will quietly tell himself, “Are not concerned with such poppycock.”
I want you to visualize the humanistic worldview as a tall cone. At the very top is the grand ideal of perfect human happiness. Within the cone are all the steps which a person believes are necessary to get to the final destination. Outside of the cone are all the “evils” in the world such as sickness, death, oppression, ignorance and the like.
Many will at first tell you that Christianity fits basically within this cone of humanism. “After all,” they will reason, “God loves us. He has a wonderful plan for us. He even died for us! Certainly God is ‘on our side,’ and wants the same goal for us!” From listening to the sermons preached from many televangelists, popular Christian writers, etc., the common humanist can hardly be blamed for believing this, because most of the popular Christians preach a message which is far more humanistic than uniquely Christian.
However, there will be difficulties. I already mentioned sexual ethics. This is often one of the first, and most persistently irksome feature of Christianity. Why is God so very concerned with what goes on behind closed doors – and even behind my eyelids? It’s not hurting anybody! God’s abhorrence of immorality doesn’t seem to make sense to the Humanist. But it gets worse from here.
What about the angry God of the Old Testament? Why did he get so angry over one solitary indiscretion in the Garden of Eden? Why did He kill so many people in the Flood? Why does He appear angry so often? A particularly troubling case may be the tower of Babel. (See post here) Here is the embryonic human race, struggling to gain some sense of order and dignity – and God comes down and quashes it all! The history of Israel seems no better. They can barely get ahead before God sends another calamity on them for not worshipping Him right. And finally He sends them off to Babylon. This is partially for their cruelty and wickedness against humanity, true enough (cf. Mica 6:8) – but the primary offense seems to be an insufficient and defective worship of their God.
What sort of God is this? What sort of a people are these, to choose to follow such a God? Were they better off for it? Would we be better off for serving this God?
(Note: see post “Does God Have a Right to Judge Me?“)
There is a popular myth that the Jesus of the New Testament is kind, warm and fuzzy, while the God of the Old Testament is mean and wrathful. (If you want the five-dollar theological term, this is called “Marcionism,” and it is one of the oldest heresies in the church. The church fathers Tertullian, etc., wrote against this powerfully! see Against Marcion). However, nothing could be further from the truth. To modify Jesus’ words slightly, “Why would you fear the God of the Old Testament? He merely killed human bodies. But rather fear the God who can throw both body and soul into Hell!” (Mat. 10:28)
It is here, at this topic of Hell, that the Humanist must finally give up all hope of reconciling Christianity and Humanism. He really cannot have it both ways – either Hell must go, or the Humanist must go. For in Hell, there is God’s final “NO” to Humanism. Here, at the last, it becomes glaringly, bluntly, flamingly evident that God is not primarily interested in human happiness. For if He was, He would never have made Hell. Hell only makes sense if God is primarily motivated by something other than human happiness.
In other words – and here is where I need you to pay attention – in other words, God is not a humanist.
God is a Theist.
I told you to imagine a cone, with the ideal of perfect human happiness (or “felicity” – just gotta use that word in here somewhere!) at the top, and with all of human effort to achieve that goal underneath it. Christianity is helpful to a point, in keeping society in line…but what can we say about God’s wrath, His destruction of civilization, His unreasonable demands…and Hell? These clearly fall outside of the cone. Off to the right, apparently at random, further and further away. The Humanist can make no sense of these strange teachings of the Bible and so, at last, the rich young ruler turns away sad.
For you, though, dear reader, I pray that God will give you grace to stay and listen as I quite literally turn your world sideways.
You must imagine that this cone of humanism has been drawn on an old-fasioned over-head transparency, or a sheet of paper. Now, I must turn it 90`, so that “the highest good” of humanism, or “the greatest good for humanity” is now laying off to the left, while the various efforts of humanism are on basically a parallel line across the page. Tracing mysteriously upwards, outside of humanism, are “sexual ethics,” “wrath” and “Hell,” among others. Why are they here? Why is the Bible full of them? What can they mean? What is their organizing principle?
It is the worship, and the fear of God.
You must draw another cone. At the top, is the worship of God. Building upwards towards that worship are all the things which contribute towards God being worshipped in the earth, and in the heavens. This will include His just and righteous judgment of sinners, and His triumph over all false gods through the Final Judgment and Hell. All that falls outside of the cone of God’s worship now becomes – for the person who truly fears God – a thing to be feared.
We can now begin to understand the difference between a God-fearer and a Humanist in practical life.
A Christian and a Humanist may seem to be on the same page (both are basically “moral” in their outlook) but they have a profoundly different worldview, and aim. They may walk five steps together, but all the time their eyes have been set on two different mountains, and soon enough their steps must part ways.
And what does this look like in real-life?
She sidles close to him, rubbing his body seductively. “C’mon honey! We’re alone!”
He feels terror and pulls away from his girlfriend. “No, we can’t! It would be wrong!”
“But nobody would know!”
“But it would be wrong!”
“But we can be safe, and if I get pregnant, there are ways of dealing with that.”
He jumps away in terror. “I can’t believe you would say that!”
“Why? Who would know? And it would be better than having a child now. Abortion isn’t wrong – it doesn’t hurt anybody!”
You see how their minds work? She only thinks of what will harm herself, himself, society, and those involved. It is all very logical: none will be harmed, so it is acceptable.
He fears God. This thing will dishonor God. And what will be the result? God is not mocked, whatever a man sows, this he will reap (Gal. 6:7). The thought of God’s anger being directed at him fills him with a sudden, unspeakable, inexpressible terror. His palms are moist, his mouth is dry. The desire he feels is powerful – but the fear completely overpowers it. He cannot understand the thinking of his girlfriend. What does he care about the fear of man? He fears God – and knows God sees.
“Why speak to me of crickets chirping, and mosquitos biting? Why speak to me of the fear of man, of embarrassment, of inconvenience? The Lion has roared near at hand – I must haste me away for love of life!”
In terror, he runs like Joseph from Potiphar’s wife. And she – as confused as she is hurt – lashes out in confusion and newfound hatred. For we hate above all that which we do not understand, and a Humanist will never understand a true Christian’s heart. (This is why we are not to be yoked together with them, cf. 2 Cor. 6:14)
God’s messenger always comes to us like He came once to Joshua. He comes not to be on our side – not to help us build our societies, our dreams, to pursue our goal of “human happiness.” Rather, in His love and in the profoundest of grace, He invites us into a journey of laying down our lives, loves, families, interestes, desires and passions. To die, truly and really to die a death to humanism and love of self.
He comes not to promise to be on our side, but to invite us to be on His side. He comes not telling us to pray for our kingdoms to come, but to pray that His kingdom will come. He comes not to worship before the golden statue of humanism, but to walk in the flames of regeneration, to the glory of Himself alone.
For He truly is God, and there is no other!