From: Good Goats
When we speak of how our recovery depends so much on knowing God as merciful and loving, the most frequent question we are asked is this: “If God is so merciful and loving, then why be good?” I (Dennis) understand this question since I did many good things because I feared a vengeful, punishing God. For example, I read Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats. I interpreted this passage literally and thought that since the sheep go to Heaven and the goats go to hell, I wanted to make sure I was a sheep. So, out of fear and as a good sheep, I did many good things such as visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. Yet, when my image of God changed, I did even more good things and did them with more love. We do the most loving actions for those we love the most, not for those we fear the most. I do more for Sheila and Matt than for anyone else.
We can scare people into changing their behavior through fear of hell or fear of losing love. In fact, fear may have to be used occasionally on an emergency basis. For example, a family might tell their alcoholic father that unless he changes they are going to leave in order to protect themselves from his behavior. By appealing to his fear of not belonging, this family might get the alcoholic to stop drinking. But unless the alcoholic’s fear is eventually replaced with a deep sense of love and belonging, he will replace drinking with other addictions. Through fear we can temporarily change a person’s behavior, but only love and belonging can ultimately change the person.
I (Sheila) grew up in the Jewish tradition, where we were not taught “the fear of hell.” It would never have occurred to the Jews in my community to scare people into being good. We were taught that people, although wounded and imperfect, were naturally good. If they did something that wasn’t so good, it was only because they were hurt and scared. We knew that what these scared people needed wasn’t more fear, but rather more love and care from all of us. Unloving behavior is not ok. But what heals it permanently is love, not fear. As Bill W. said, “Punishment never heals. Only love can heal.”