Father Ignatius waited until the congregation sat down and then he started his sermon.
“We often read in the Bible about people fearing God, and the fear of God. And that’s an issue which I would like to address today.
“What is meant by the fear of God?
“Do we fear that unless we obey Him and do as He commands He’ll send thunder and lightning from heaven and destroy us and our cities? Like in Sodom and Gomorrah?
“Or perhaps He would allow illness and terrible things to happen to us because we failed Him in some way or other?”
The priest stopped for a few seconds to gauge the mood of the congregation; and then continued.
“There are, of course, many kinds of fear. If a tiger were to suddenly enter this church we would all fear for our lives and we’d run out from every available exit. Most of us would even forget to genuflect as we rushed out of the building.”
The congregation laughed.
“But that is not the fear I speak of …
“If we believe that our God is a loving, caring fatherly God, whose only wish is that some day we all join Him in Heaven; then what is there to fear?
“Our fear is not, and should not be, a fear borne of the possibility of punishment and retribution. A fear that, unless we do as He says, we’ll end up in hell and eternal damnation.
“That is not the fear that God wishes for us. After all, He gave us the choice to love Him or not.
“Sadly, many do not either love Him or fear Him. And they seem to be thriving all right! He has not punished them or turned them into pillars of salt! In His loving nature, He has allowed them the luxury to choose as they wish.
“So … what fear is there for us then, who proclaim to believe in Him and to love Him?
“It is the fear of hurting Him.
“I repeat … the fear of hurting Him. Just as when we have a loving father or mother who do the utmost for us; and they set their standards and values to teach us how to grow up as decent, kind human beings. We, their children, follow their rules, through gritted teeth perhaps, just because we love them and do not want to hurt them.
“That’s the kind of fear we owe our God, our Creator and our loving Father in Heaven. The fear of hurting Him. The fear of disappointing Him by our behavior. A fear borne out of respect for Him; a fear nurtured by true love given to Him freely just as He has loved us.
“Not a fear of what He might do to us. But a fear of hurting someone who loves us.
“Remember … even the devil fears God. But he fears Him in a different way. He fears Him because he knows Him very well. The devil certainly knows God better than any of us does; because he has met Him face to face.
“And yet, having been close to God and experienced His love, the devil chose to disobey and strike out independently on his own. He thought he could do better than love and follow his Creator.
“And God’s loving nature let him go. He did not punish him and destroy him once and for all. He just allowed him to walk away free out of Paradise.
“It is that very act of rebellion by the devil which resulted in death for all of us. We were not destined to die, but to share Paradise for eternity with God. But the devil in his destructive, impudent rebellious nature has upset what was meant to be and his sin resulted in us undergoing death.
“God our Creator favors life. He created life. In order to redeem us and save us from death, He loved us so much that He sent us His only Son, Jesus, so that we may have life, and have it to the full.
“All we have to do to receive this eternal life is to accept Jesus as God’s only Son, our Savior, and to fear the possibility of ever hurting Him again by our behavior.
“God will never send us to hell. It is we who choose to go there by our way of life; and by choosing the devil instead.”