I expect that most people somewhere in their high school education had to read extracts from the puritan sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry god.” It has become the standard sermon used to characterize the Puritans in the minds of school students and portrays a God anxious to destroy those he predestined to destruction. I still remember how my high school teacher made fun of it.
And it is a truly terrible sermon.
I have seen a variety of religious fanatics as minor characters in movies over the years. They invariably want to condemn everybody to hell, they often talk about Jesus a lot, they are angry and laughably weird. They are usually used for comedy, but occasionally they create real problems. Occasionally they turned out to be wildly hypocritical.
And indeed there was nothing good about those characters.
We may laugh at these in our turn, but I think these portrayals have actually had a chilling effect on our whole membership, myself included, in our willingness to “speak up” or act in a way that clearly identifies themselves as followers of Christ. I think it has, in a course of not very many years, shamed an entire generation out of using words like “hell”, “wicked”, “sin”, or “evil.” These are words the Savior used, but when we see “the sort of people that use those words” appear only as fanatical weirdos on television and movies we quietly adjust our language so as not to appear to be “those sorts of people”. We find other ways to speak, and even join in the condemnation of anyone using phrases in real life that Christ himself used in his real life.
What would we think of a person who uses words and teachings like the following in public?
Matthew 16:23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
JST Matt 5:6 And Jesus said unto his disciples, Beholdest thou the scribes, and the Pharisees, and the priests, and the Levites? They teach in their synagogues, but do not observe the law, nor the commandments; and all have gone out of the way, and are under sin.
7 Go thou and say unto them, Why teach ye men the law and the commandments, when ye yourselves are the children of corruption?
8 Say unto them, Ye hypocrites, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Matthew 16:1 The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.
2 He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red.
3 And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?
4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.
John 5:14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
John 6:70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
John 8:21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come.
John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
Luke 11:39 And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.
40 Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?
Matthew 22:17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
JST Matt 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than he was before, like unto yourselves.
shortly followed by
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Could we recognize him as the Son of God?
Media has a powerful ability to teach, to insert mental images of what it means to act a certain way, or to inspire for or against a cause. I expect I am far from being alone in having allowed it to undermine the way I see the world.
We have been shamed into silence. But we should instead look to Christ, both when he does, as well as when he does not, use such language. Christ definitely uses other language at many other times. However, the fact that we have stopped doing it altogether does not make our teaching sound more like that of the Master Teacher. We have been shamed out of it, and we need to reconsider.