I just recently told two of my friends about my experience in having been under the teachings of a “cult” or, at least, sharing similar features to one. Specifically, I told them that this person I used to be taught under would tell me to do something and explain the grave consequences if I chose not to do it. The “grave consequence” was almost always implied to be eternal condemnation or, at least, leading to it. Though after all that, this person would tell me, “It’s your choice though since it’s your life. I can’t force you.” I then proceeded to tell my friends that it was sort of forcing since I wasn’t really left with much of an option - it was either doing what this person told me to do or suffer eternal condemnation.
However, right after saying that story, my mind equated this to God. Isn’t this similar to what God tells us in the Bible? If we don’t believe in Jesus Christ, we’ll suffer eternal damnation? And yet, I assume that most people would view my personal experience as my ex-mentor forcing me to do certain things and not apply the same logic to God. I’m not sure how to go about this. I know it’s not LITERALLY forcing since I was the one who made the decision yet most people would view what happened to me as being forced.
How do I make sense of this? Does God really threaten us or am I misunderstanding something here (which I assume I am)? If my ex-mentor did wrong to me, how do we make sense of what God says in Scripture when He tells us to believe in His Son or suffer condemnation? How do we make this distinction?
@imbryant There is a danger in argument from analogy. In this particular case, God is not like your mentor in a number of very significant ways.
God is the source and author of life - to reject God is to reject life - we bring judgment on ourselves by separating ourselves from God. Your mentor was only human.
God is love - all that He does is for our good. His commands are not a burden, but a blessing. Your mentor was manipulating and using you for his own ends - which did not have your ultimate good in view. Love God and love neighbor are a benefit not just to God but to us as well - imagine a world where no one steals, lies or murders and everyone honors their parents - wow! Sign me up.
God is the ultimate good - apart from God there is no true joy or peace. The greatest gift He can give us is Himself. That is certainly not true of your mentor…
I suspect I missed a few - but the chief point is that God is the greatest good and He desires good for us. He does not need us. He never did. He created us purely so that we might enjoy His love and glory. Your old mentor, on the other hand, was using you for his own selfish gain and had nothing to truly offer you.
Let me try a more appropriate analogy for both your mentor and God. Your mentor was like a leech who grew fat by draining your resources and your life. God owns all things - for all things came from Him and are for Him - and yet He offers us the opportunity to grow rich through the sacrifice of His Son. God is the rich land owner - the great King - to whom all shall one day bow and who needs nothing from us - and yet who we so desperately need. And He freely offers Himself.
God is nothing like your mentor.
God Honors Our Will - He Does Not Coerce Us
Both Lewis and Pascal make a great point - God honors the will of all men. Those who desire what is good and true will find Him and those who do not want to know Him get their wish as well. God is not coercive. Your mentor manipulated you into doing what he wanted - God does not such thing.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
In “Christianity for Modern Pagans” Peter Kreeft examines Pascal’s work. One argument Pascal makes is that God gives exactly enough light for the righteous to find Him and for the wicked to reject Him.
"He gives exactly the right amount of light. If He gave less, even the righteous would be unable to find Him, and their will would be thwarted. If He gave more, even the wicked would find Him, against their will. Thus He respects and fulfills the will of all.
If He gave more light, the righteous would not learn humility, for they would know too much. If He gave less light, the wicked would not be responsible for their wickedness, for they would know too little."
Hell is a Warning - Not a Threat
There is so much I could say here, but the short version is that God’s talk of judgment is not a threat - ‘do this or else’ - it is a warning - ‘come to me and live!’. Hell is the consequence of our choice to separate ourselves from God. God warns us because He loves us and wants us to live - to turn from sin and ruin to life and peace in God.
You may find Tim Keller’s sermon and the resources in the linked Connect thread helpful in this regard.
Ezekiel 33:11 - Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Matthew 23:37 - Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Isaiah 55:1-2 - Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.