Some could rightly argue that our culture no longer has a fear of God. Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741) would today be re-entitled, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners.” However, there are many very religious people in our world who are seeking a relationship with God based upon fear and desperately need to hear the overwhelming joyful news of the gospel.
I was reading the testimony of a woman who became a Christian in Iran. When she was fourteen, she joined a Zeinabiyeh (the house of the Imam Hazrat Zeinab), a sort of holy club where women would study the Koran and learn how to please Allah. For seven years she awoke every morning to pray from 1- 5 am. She would go to school and then back to the Zeinab House to pray from 5 pm to the early evening. Sometimes there would be a special program and she would be there until midnight, go home for an hour or so of sleep, and then begin the regimen again. There were certain “dark celebrations” in which the women would mourn for the dead Imams. They would fall down and scratch their faces, bang their heads on the floor, and pull out their hair. They would beat their chests so hard that they would be black and blue. All of her prayers, all of her tears, all of her service were to please Allah.
She feared death. She was always aware of her sin and believed that Allah was angry at her and would judge her when she died. “I feared that if any of my hair stuck out of my scarf, Allah would hang me from my hair in heaven. Heavy black socks covered my legs. If I accidentally revealed my ankles to anyone, Allah would drop me repeatedly into hell to burn my legs. I could reach heaven only if I wore all this stuff and cried all the time. Finally a young woman of twenty-one, I left the Zeinab House. My studies were complete. They had shown me a very angry God.” Here was a woman who had memorized the Koran and was able to translate portions from Arabic into Farsi, and yet she could not find a God who loved her.
After a suicide attempt, she began watching a Christian TV program. It was actually a worship service beamed in from another country and as the camera panned the congregation she saw people who actually looked happy. They were singing and clapping their hands. There was no music in her worship. She was immediately drawn to a God whose worshippers were filled with joy—something that she had never experienced. She had always observed that holy men in her country, such as Imam Khomeini, never cracked a smile. They always looked sad and angry as they lashed out at this or that. So when an international number appeared on the TV screen, she called it. Over the next several months she was given a Bible in Farsi, which she read voraciously. She also continued to watch the TV program and soon came to know a God of love revealed through Jesus Christ.
What an amazing joyful gospel we have to share with the world! “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16, 17). If your worship service this weekend were beamed into someone else’s living room, what would they conclude about your God?