Imagine that you were addicted to smoking. Really addicted. Your father comes along one day and says to you, “if you smoke 15 packets of cigarettes every day you will die”. If you believed that your father was an evil man, you might walk away in fear believing that he is planning to kill you if you break this arbitrary law that he has just created. As such, you would continue to smoke, but you would do it in secret, afraid of what would happen if he found out.

But if you believed that he was a good man who knew what was good for your health, then you would be able to make a rational decision to leave behind this dangerous behaviour and seek a healthy life instead. Your interpretation of what is said depends purely on how you judge your father’s character.

This is exactly what happens when we approach the bible. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus says some extreme things, such as ‘if you call your brother a fool you will be liable to hell’ and ‘if you look at a woman with lust, you have already committed adultery’.

Once again we have two ways of looking at this. This could be an arbitrary rule that must be followed out of fear of punishment (or ignored because you don’t believe that a loving God could punish you for this). Or you could see it as some timely advice that will help you avoid dying spiritually.

Perhaps Jesus is not threatening us, or trying to add an extra burden to our lives. Maybe he is just trying to wake us up to the fact that it is our decisions (which are opposed to love) that are going to turn our life into a living hell rather than God who is going to send us there.