Saturday, 9 November 2013

Fear of God and Hell

Ralph Martin’s recent article “Why Are We So Afraid - To Be Afraid of Hell” , in the National Catholic Register, unleashed a number of  completely unwarranted and un-Christian responses which bordered on the profane and what  can only call be called just plain evil.  The unfortunate use of the term ‘servile fear’, with its negative connotation, was found evident and present in some of these most troubled respondents.  When we read scripture we can hear Jesus repeatedly say “Do not be afraid”! And when he spoke about hell, he did so only on a few occasions and then only in metaphorical terms. Now is it the role of the church to create a fear of hell, or is it its role to be with and remove the fear of hell in people?  Dealing with cancer now for the second time, I have a pretty good understanding of hell.      


One of the regular writers for the NCregister, writing on ‘Fear of the Lord’ used this same term as follows  The bad kind of fear is what the Catholic Tradition calls “servile fear.” It is the fear a dog has of its master or, more precisely, that a slave has of his master. It is also the fear that the average atheist critic of Christianity posits of God.  – Mark Shea, on Fear of the Lord, Oct. 18, 2013  This contradiction is bound to cause considerable confusion among those Roman Catholics should they have read both articles. 


As an enthusiastic convert to Roman Catholicism it was my pleasure to accompany many inquirers in the RCIA process for more than twenty years. At no time would we have considered using the term “servile fear” to describe hell as an introduction or conclusion to the Christian faith.  ‘Fear of the Lord’, we were taught simply meant ‘respect’ for God above all.   If the intent of the ‘New Evangelization’ is to open doors of the hearts of people through the use of fear, then . . . . one should not be surprised to be told to go to h...! 


During the late eighties the Franciscan centre in Steubenville offered several exiting inspirational summer programs, which I attended, that spoke primarily about  the unconditional love of God. As my faith grew I began to gradually understand (largely thanks to another well known Franciscan) the inclusiveness of a God who meets people where they are – not where others would have them be. In more recent times Roman Catholic liturgy suddenly changed from a God who desired to save  ALL in the here in now, to  some or few in the afterlife. Those with authority in the Church seem to have adopted a position where they feel free to use fear and warn others  about their shortcomings. We are all in this spiritual search together or we are divided.  A humble servant by the name of Jesus a Jew did not limit his words and actions to members of his Jewish faith. Pope Francis seems to possess  a refreshing quality of humility which can bring some much needed hope and peace to ALL. Lets hope and pray others will join him.


The role of the Church, as Pope Francis has said is to serve. 



About Ralph Martin

Ralph Martin is the  president of Renewal Ministries an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Angelicum University in Rome. In December of 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Ralph as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization for a five year term. 
He is the author of a number of articles and books, the most recent of which is The Fulfillment of All Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints. He and his wife Anne reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


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