This a good question. Unfortunately, many people use religion as a means of exploiting others to heap up riches for themselves. The Bible contains many warnings about and against such people (I Timothy 6:3-5; Jude 1:10-17
). We can identify these people by their failure to teach what the Bible says and by their hypocrisy, or failure to practice what they teach (Titus 1:9-11; II Timothy 3:1-9
). They often pervert the gospel in a way that helps them (increase wealth, gather a following, etc.). This is just one reason why we must diligently study the Bible and learn the truth for ourselves - so we can fend off greedy, false teachers, who are seeking to exploit us (II Timothy 2:15-16; 3:16-17
). To be straightforward, if all you hear from your local church is about giving more money under the threat of fear of hellfire, I would be gravely concerned and would suggest you find somewhere else to worship and work with the brethren. Remember, Jesus was essentially a beggar all His preaching life (Luke 9:58
). The gospel contains no solicitations from Jesus for money.
Is God good and about love? Absolutely, He is! In fact, love is the only quality that is strictly identified with God:
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (I John 4:8)
So, love is a primary virtue of God's character. However, does that mean there is no warning in the Bible in regards to eternal punishment? No, in fact, more than any prophet or apostle, Jesus taught more about hell-fire, warning people to avoid it at all costs. For example, please consider this warning:
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30).
Sacrifice to avoid eternal condemnation was a prominent theme of Jesus' preaching; however, the application was always made to spiritual and moral points (avoiding adultery, lying, hating, hypocrisy, etc.). I know of no place where Jesus admonished people to give money under the threat of hell. In fact, Paul later tells us that God seeks cheerful, voluntary monetary contributions (II Corinthians 9:5-7
). God and His New Testament disciples went to great lengths to avoid sacrifice by compulsion (Philemon 1:8-14
). Now, Jesus did tell one man to go, sell all His possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and then follow Christ during His earthly ministry; however, this many had a severe problem with greed, and he had specifically asked Jesus to tell him what was keeping him from going to heaven, which was that he loved riches more than God (Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-25
). Even then, the money would not have gone to Jesus. It was to be given to the poor!
Good, gospel teaching will contain elements of warning, encouragement, and exhortation (II Timothy 4:1-5
). It will step on our toes as well as give us the hope and strength to do better. So, in closing, God is ultimately about both. God warns us to avoid hell, while pleading with us to reciprocate His love, most clearly evidenced in the sacrifice of Jesus (John 3:16
). Eventually, love is to be the primary motivating force for the mature Christian (I John 4:17-19
); however, the fear of hell can help keep the younger, less mature Christian on the straight and narrow way. This is just like raising our own children. We use different techniques and motivations for a 2-year old baby versus an 20-year old child. Similarly, no matter what our frame of mind, God has a message to move us, if we will but listen.
Please be watchful and avoid those who pervert or overly emphasize any aspect of the gospel, whether it is God's justice or mercy. Such perversions cannot save, and we are strictly warned to avoid them:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
I pray this helps. Here are a few articles and forum posts that examine the mercy, love, and justice of God in more detail:
http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles ... hopes.html
What do you think? Does this answer help? I look forward to hearing from you.
May God help us to have a sincere love of truth,