by William Trollinger
In the first half of his brilliant and disturbing book, A Gentler God: Breaking free of the Almighty in the company of the human Jesus, Doug Frank draws upon his own upbringing and on a lifetime of conversations with fellow evangelicals to make the point that, while “God’s tender love is often proclaimed” in evangelical churches, “God’s wrath is alive and well behind the scenes” (53). This God so “loves you that he graciously offers you eternal life,” but this very same God is so “angry with you that he will punish you forever and ever if you refuse his gracious offer” (41). As Frank powerfully observes, the evangelical God
Is willing to give us a lifetime to comply with his requirements, but then he says “Time’s up!” If we haven’t accepted his Son as our Savior, he abandons us forever. He turns toward his “good” children, with whom he enjoys eternal bliss, while he torments his “bad” children eternally in hell. In apparent contradiction to the Bible’s portrait of God, his mercy is strictly circumscribed, while the consequences of his anger go on forever (161).
This is the God of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. According to these tourist sites, God was so furious with humanity at the time of the Flood that he had no trouble drowning up to twenty billion human beings (including those with disabilities, children, infants, and the unborn), while preserving all of eight individuals in a luxuriously appointed Ark, individuals who apparently had no concern whatsoever for the slaughter occurring outside.
And as the Flood was a watery precursor of the end of history – a point that is made very clear at both the museum and ark – God is even now preparing to impose a second divine genocide. Billions will be slaughtered and sent on to the eternal fires of Hell, while some minority of humans will be transported to a blissful existence in Heaven (where they will not hear or concern themselves with the screams and sufferings of their former friends and neighbors).
Why would anyone worship such a God? Doug Frank notes that
When I confess, in conversation, that I have encountered a God who actually likes human beings, who is infinitely forgiving, and who will journey with every last human being to the farthest corners of hell itself . . . until we are softened to God’s love . . . a devout evangelical will respond by saying, “Then why should I bother to be good?” or “Why should I get saved, if we’re all going to get to heaven someday? . . . Their response reveals their deep ambivalence about Christian faith. It has not been truly good news for this life – only for the next. Beneath all the talk of God’s love for them and their love for God lies their true motive for being good: they are afraid of a tyrannical God (169).
There is no question that the fear of a tyrannical God is what is being sold at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. Not the loving embrace of Jesus. Not the good news of the Gospel. Not God’s mercy and love. Fear. Fear of being included in the divine genocide to come.
As Doug Frank says, “Hell remains the silent linchpin of evangelical belief. Its implications for genuine trust in a loving God are palpable, but rarely acknowledged” (54).