Mass shootings. Suicide bombings. These are not natural tragedies. These are atrocities. But why?
There’s a psychology to sin. It says, people commit atrocities because “there is no fear of the true God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). People break God’s moral laws without hesitation when there is no fear of temporal or eternal consequences. Within the psychology of sin, then, some are “swift to shed blood” and inflict “destruction and misery” (Romans 3:15-16).
The psychology of sin involves two types of fear. Thomas Manton, one-time chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, described servile fear (servant/master-like) as when “a man fears God and hates God ... because they have drawn an ill picture of God in their minds.”
This servile fear of God “is generally looked upon as a left-handed grace,” one sage wrote, meaning that because it is there in Scripture, we have to recognize it. Yet we feel ill at ease about the whole idea of fear being a part of a spiritual life. However, from Moses to John, all were struck by an overwhelming sense of terror when they encountered the divine being of Jesus the Christ outside of the veil of human flesh, which shielded his eternal seriousness while here on earth.
These experiences show that a high view of the only true God “soon ends all controversy between the man and man’s Creator. The fight goes out of the man,” wrote A.W. Tozer. It’s then that the fear of the Lord becomes “a fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27), the beginning of wise behavior (Psalms 111:10), and the motivation “to depart from committing atrocities” (Proverbs 3:7).
Only a fear of God can correct the potential to sin that lurks in every human heart, “for there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). That’s why G.K. Chesterton so masterfully wrote in a letter to The Times: “Dear sir, what’s wrong with the world? I Am.” “There is none good, no not one” (Romans 3:12).
Not all fear in the Bible is servile. Those who place their trust in the God-man, Jesus Christ, as their personal Lord and Savior enter into a filial fear — from the Latin “filius,” a son). This family-like fear is that indefinite mixture of respect and pleasure, joy and awe:
“Fear is love, and love is fear;
and in and out they move.” (F.W. Faber)
Filial fear is the grateful response to God by sinners who have become saints, as all genuine Christians are called saints by God in His Bible. It is a taught attitude (Psalms 34:11) as in John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace”:
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.”
How can a world that is hostile toward the true God and his moral absolutes be taught to fear him and stop committing atrocities?
The psychology of sin in God’s Bible states that we must support the only true and saving Gospel (good news) that can set human hearts free from the penalty and controlling power of sin. That message is of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, based upon Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. Some will have to change their church affiliation in order to stand in support of this beautiful message from God, for all churches are not created equal.
The hostile hand that clutches the assassin’s knife must open if the hand decides to grasp the gift its intended victim offers. But it is the gift itself that works the change of heart. Jesus Christ, alone, offers the gift of eternal life and newness of life here and now. When individuals drop the dagger to grasp the gift of salvation, the psychology of sin begins to work backward.
The Rev. Monty Casebolt leads the Livingston Bible Church.
The Faith & Values column appears regularly in the Saturday Life section of The Billings Gazette. Pastors, ethicists, educators or other experts who would like to write a column about faith, ethics or values for the section, should contact: Susan Olp; Billings Gazette; 401 N. Broadway; Billings, MT 59101. Or call her at 657-1281; fax to her attention at 657-1208; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.