Holy Terrorism


Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. (2 Corinthians 5:11)

There’s nothing like abject terror to get you up and running. Where affection, reason, and altruism fall short, a shot of high-octane fear will generally get the job done. There’s just something about the threat of obliteration that motivates you to put on your dancing shoes.

Everybody likes the “God is love” bit. And you gotta have it for things like weddings, children’s sermons, and divorce recovery programs. It’s also useful for tolerance campaigns and multicultural events which nobody really likes except for the food booths. Love is groovy, but it’s only half the game.  It’s like a bucketful of saltpeter. Nice, if you’re going to make a love potion, but you need charcoal and sulfur to make it go boom.

That’s where fear comes in. It’s the true ass-kicking ingredient of religious conviction. The Apostle Paul says that “we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ” to get what’s coming to us. Unless you’re Saint Denial, you know that ain’t gonna be all fun and games. And that’s what Paul says drives him to turn every Tom, Dick, and Mary from a goat to a sheep. Oh, he knows God loves the suckers too, but it’s the image of a deity with barbecue tongs that has him pitching salvation tonic at every street corner in the known world.

The Proverbs guy says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” which is a nice way of saying that terror can keep you from doing something you’ll later regret. Nobody drives the speed limit out of love; it’s police radar and a fat ticket that keeps you in line. Even among sap-sucking Christians, if there’s no cop around, the speed limit be damned. For many religious folks grace is just a license for flipping off Jesus.

Some argue that “there is no fear in love.” They’re the ones who play Ungame, the non-competitive communication game that fosters “listening skills as well as self-expression,” the game where everybody wins and nobody loses. These spiritual flower children worship at Saltpeter’s Basilica doing communion with grape juice and saltine crackers. Saltpeter makes great incense. Fire the lava lamp.

But out in the streets the guys who know that a loss is a loss are the ones who play the game to win. They know that not everybody gets in, and even those who do get in are gonna have to own up big time. Paul is playing for keeps; his Eucharist is real flesh and blood. He knows who he’s dealing with, and it ain’t no momma’s boy.

Me afraid of God? Nah. But that’s what terrifies me.


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