The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God

When I was younger, I knew a lot about God. From the time I was a child I knew God all too well!

God was that all-seeing eye that watched my every move and slapped me into shape when I messed up. If I failed to avoid sin, God was the one who would cast me, without hesitation, into eternal burning hell when I died.

Caution - Angry God

Hey! Let Me Tell You about God!

I loved him and served him, but my God was angry and demanding. He was also holy and good, but that was my problem—I could never be holy and good enough to satisfy him. I accepted Jesus as a child but was always concerned I had violated some rule, so I ‘got saved’ again just in case. And I did it repeatedly. It was sort of like backing up my salvation computer frequently in hopes that when I crashed (died or was raptured) it would be right after my last back-up.

My fear and insecurity about God and my thinking he was angry was partly because the preachers told me so. But even more than that it was because, as a child, I read the Bible constantly. I mean I read the Bible a lot! I took my Bible to school and read it whenever I had a few minutes. In fact, I hurried through tests so I could have time to read the Bible.

The Image of Angry, Violent, Vindictive Old Testament God

Since the Old Testament is longer than the New Testament, I did most of my reading in the Old Testament. I don’t have to tell you that the Old Testament presents a very scary God, and man is he ever angry, violent, and vindictive! In addition to drowning the entire human population, here are just a few other clues.

1 Samuel 15 states:

This is what the Lord Almighty says…’Attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’

Leviticus 20 requires death for a number of offenses including:

  • Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death
  • Both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death
  • A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death

Exodus 20 says:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.

The Judgmental New Testament God who Sends Us to Hell

The preachers and Sunday school teachers also told me that God would send most people to hell. This included people who never heard of Jesus, people who refused to be ‘saved’, and even ‘saved’ people who didn’t measure up.

Even Jesus was said to speak about the fires of hell. For example, in Mark 9 he warned people that:

It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. [KJV]

I understood this to describe the fires of hell where the flames never go out. I thought the worm was the soul of the damned that would never cease to exist in this eternal burning hell. Several times I considered getting rid of body parts in order to avoid this terrible fate God had in store for me.

Learning the Truth about God

After high school I went to a Christian college. They taught me the same thing: God is angry, violent, and vindictive, and he will torment us all in hell if we don’t accept Jesus and measure up. It was not until I finished college that I really began to understand things differently. By focusing on the gospels and questioning the reasons for my beliefs I realized God is not angry, violent, or vindictive.

Being raised and educated an inerrantist, I thought everything the Old Testament said about God was 100% factual. But I came to realize that God did not write those things about himself. The writers of the Old Testament were people talking about God as they understood him; and their understanding of God was incomplete and often misinformed.

Then I discovered the Bible doesn’t even teach eternal punishment in burning fire. Jesus uses two words often translated as ‘hell’. ‘Hades’ is simply a word for death or the grave. Jesus also employs imagery from ‘Gehenna’, which is translated ‘hell’. This is the word he uses in Mark 9 above.

Mark incorporates the imagery of the worms and fires of Gehenna from Isaiah 66, which simply refers to death and destruction. What I used to think was a description of eternal punishment in burning flames was nothing of the sort.

The Isaiah passage is a picture of the defeated rebels who are dead, unburied, heaped together, and set ablaze outside Jerusalem. The worm is not the soul of the deceased but the maggots that thrive in such an environment of death. I think Jesus used the familiar imagery from Isaiah to draw a graphic contrast between entering life with the Father and death and decay without the Father’s gift of eternal life.

By placing unrelated passages together, we constructed a picture of eternal punishment in a burning hell supported neither individually nor collectively by the passages themselves.

Jesus Tells Us about God

Believing God to be angry and vindictive created fear within me and distorted my understanding of God’s loving character. But I find that Jesus gives the clearest understanding of God—that God is the loving, inclusive, and supportive Father. Both in his descriptions of the Father, and in his own actions as the Father’s representative, Jesus shows the Father is not angry with us; instead he wishes to have a relationship with each of us.

Previously, I shared with you 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm. Belief in Angry God is the most harmful one of all; we will talk about how it harms us next time.

In this series:

6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God (Today’s post)
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People
The #2 Most Harmful Religious Belief—the Inerrant Bible
A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible
4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful
How Legalism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?

Six religious baggage issues

Photo Credit 1: dirtymouse via Compfight cc [modified]
Photo Credit 2: Christian Evolution
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Have a great day! ~Tim
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30 Responses to The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God

  1. michaeleeast says:

    An interesting history of hell.
    I personally don’t believe that anyone perishes.
    My understanding of God is that He helps those who reject Him.
    “Everyman” states “The wound is too deep”.
    God brings healing to those who have been lost.
    They are with loving relatives and friends.
    Forgiveness is rife in heaven.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Very nicely said, Michael. I agree that God works with us toward reconciliation and is not interested in taking our rejection as our last word.

      Like

  2. Andrea says:

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. And I would have put them pretty much in the same order too! This is definitely the first one – fear interferes with everything else, so getting it out of the way is essential to start loving and healing.

    Like

  3. I’ve commented on your posts a time or two and like your approach. I hate to be contrarian, but… the God of the NT is the God of the OT. I understand the concept of a new covenant, but that does not change one single thing about the God of the OT. Isn’t God supposed to be never changing, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow? And if the Bible was inspired by men who were trying to understand him, then how can we be sure of what is the true characterization of God? Generally, it seems to be the good attributes people embrace and it’s easy to see why. What if the exact opposite is supposed to be true? What if the stonings, damnations, genocide and slavery really are the true nature of God and all the warm and fuzzy verses were not? I read another of your posts where you say something to the effect that atheists and inerrantists/literalists are the same. But once you concede that maybe this one thing isn’t really true, then there is no credibility anymore. Then it all comes down to interpretation and cherry picking. I appreciate religious moderates greatly, but am more confused by them than I am by fundies. The Catholic Church endorses evolution, which flies in the face of Genesis. Where did original sin come from? Are modern humans the cause of “the fall” and if so, how? What about hominids that came before us? Where do they fit in the narrative? I’ve tried to find an answer to these questions and can’t find them or any that are offered are deeply unsatisfying.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Jackie, welcome back!

      You ask some good questions, and I can’t address all of them sufficiently in a limited comment. But I will say I agree with you that God is the same in both the Old and New Testaments, but he is portrayed differently by the writers who were sharing their own understanding of God.

      The Old Testament writers to a great extent thought about God as did the other cultures in their time, though they had better insights in many cases. The New Testament writers had the advantage of insights about God from Jesus himself, and his understanding of God was superior to that of the OT writers. All the writers were talking about the same God, but the OT writers were limited, and often mistaken, in their understanding.

      Regarding atheists and inerrantists being the same, what I said was that some atheists only think of the Bible as a consistent story, and they reject it on that basis. In this way the atheists of this sort, and inerrantists, both talk about from the same perspective with one group rejecting and the other group accepting it as such. I think the problem is that they are both mistaken about the character of the Bible, and therefore the character of God.

      You ask, “What if the exact opposite is supposed to be true? What if the stonings, damnations, genocide and slavery really are the true nature of God and all the warm and fuzzy verses were not?”

      My answer is that I would not want to follow such a God.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marc says:

      Jackie,

      I would agree with much of what Tim has said. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity the Bible is considered a library of many books in which some are given more authority than others. We give more authority to the New Testament because it reveals the truths associated with Jesus Christ as God Incarnate.

      Regarding your questions about evolution, I would sat that the scientific evidence supporting the multiple billion years of antiquity of the earth and universe is very reliable. Darwinian evolutions as an explanation of how life evolved on the earth has many problems statistically and biologically. Having said that, the fossil record and scientific dating techniques confirm that hominids with human anatomy have existed for tens of thousands of years. Because human beings also have a created human spirit in addition to their human bodies and souls, it maybe that Adam and Eve were the first complete human beings representing the other potential human beings alive at their creation and testing in Eden. The other hominids alive at the time received fallen human spirits in the same condition as their spiritual father and mother who sinned and rebelled against God. Their sin and rebellion effects other humans not by hereditary guilt, but by the effects of mortality being assumed by all humanity. We are all descended from Adam and Eve as complete human beings with a spirit, soul, and body. This does not require us to be their biological descendants, although the Biblical story line does indicate that Jesus Christ is a biological descendant of Adam and Eve.

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  4. Pingback: 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. consultgtf says:

    Artist, Designer, Planner…all know what they have created, and why they created as they know the purpose, but we the simple beings cannot understand this, as we are yet to understand ourselves.
    As a parent have we never got angry with children? but for whose good? So can we branded as “Always angry Father/ Mother”? and what is our loss, even if we are branded? We are at that state only because we want our children to be on the right track, without any bad habits, which will give pleasure to our senses for time being! An illusion? we don’t want our Children to suffer!

    But, who is at lose, otherwise? we or our Children, if they don’t listen to our advice?

    Now, let us have we parents, replaced with God, Does HIS Commandments cause us harm?
    People are dying more pathetic death than old testament people, why? How?

    Has our life or sufferings diminished after we CHANGED our God from GTF to Jesus or Mary or any other Saints?
    We afraid to worship Our Father as we are not able to control our senses as we are failing for our senses!

    We are good at changing our God, rather than changing ourselves!

    Our God Thee Father, WILL BE A angry Father, until we become worthy of His Love!

    Like

    • consultgtf says:

      He is angry God, those for people who are sinners!

      Like

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        I am sorry Consult; I cannot agree that God is angry with sinners. He understands ‘sinners’ and wishes to bring peace and reconciliation into their lives. He wishes to remove their burdens and give them rest.

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        • Andrea says:

          I agree with you, and I can understand that some people may object that what we are doing is making God conform to cultural norms of today: forgiveness and mercy on wrongdoers, as much as the ancient Israelites were making Him conform to their own cultural norms of the day: punishment and wrath on wrongdoers. But you are right in the way that Jesus’ proclamations of God as written in the Bible are clearly that of forgiveness and mercy. Of course, I believe that God is not human and therefore that He is ascended above the realm of petty human emotions and behaviors – thus in my perspective it would be folly to compare God’s parenting methods to our own. Indeed, when I say “Father” to God I certainly do not mean the same thing as when I say “father” to my dad! Being human puts a limit on how fully we can understand God and that is frustrating for us, but that’s why Jesus and other prophets have come to show us. Unfortunately the written word has plenty potential for corruption and that’s why I do my best to commune with God through prayer.

          Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Well said, Andrea!

            Like

          • consultgtf says:

            Andrea, You may be right when you say He forgives and has mercy, but for/with whom?
            If a blind falls into the ditch, it is our duty to help him! but if a healthy person, that too after warning several times about the ditch, its dirt, its depth…and still falls into ditch? what do you call him? Will you help him?
            This is cultural norms of today, like living with others husband or wife, not bothered of the consequence on the children. and God forgives and has mercy no doubt but on whom? Does he forgive the person who never regrets for his mistakes, and continues same life even after baptism?
            This is the main reason for our children suffering! can the other blog with this title be closed with…

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        • consultgtf says:

          Why should HE?
          Is this some kind of obligation? Who created us, out of nothing and for nothing!
          And when we sin, He has got nothing to lose except for the person for whom it will affect completely it could be you, your child, or the society, then how is God offended?
          He is God, which means that He apart from all these earthly feelings.

          He has made the commandments for us to live happily forever.

          Like

      • Chas says:

        We become angry with our children if they disobey us and put themselves in danger; that anger comes out of our fear for their safety when we are not there to protect them. Since God does not fear, how could He become angry?

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Good point Chas.

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        • consultgtf says:

          Matthew 7:9- what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10″Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?…

          It is not fear, it is concern, So can I conclude that God never gets angry on anyone, even if they break his commandments forever…

          but show me one person who is happy and at peace within himself forever?

          Like

  6. Steve says:

    Julian of Norwich also taught this 600 years ago:
    http://www.orderofjulian.org/RDL-No_Wrath_in_God.html

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks for sharing this passage from Julian of Norwich, Steve. I found it very interesting.

      Like

    • consultgtf says:

      Sorry, I am asking this straight forward question, Are we all afraid of our GTF,

      as HE is has said “5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (but we are bowing down to money, women/men, gold, material, fame…)

      Even in your link it gives the same message, that He is very soft God? No!, then why there is suffering and death?

      This is case in my India also, In Hinduism, they have changed over from the angry and violent Father Shiva, to his sons, Murugan and Ganesha who are still children?

      Like

  7. practicalchristians says:

    Reblogged this on The Association of Practical Christians and commented:
    Some thoughts on carrying our “Religious Baggage”…

    Like

  8. Zach Van Houten says:

    Great article Tim. I personally see the OT as typical of religion around that time. Yahweh as presented in the OT is a nationalistic war/prosperity God. Very little about that vision of Him strikes me as being consistent with Jesus. Of course dispensationalism has tried to say that somehow men were saved by the Law apparently, even though later NT writers said the patriarchs were saved by faith, not works. For me Genesis is the weakest of the OT books in terms of credibility. I find it suspicious that the name Eve shows up only 2 times in the OT, both in Genesis. She is never referenced again, and the proper name Adam only shows up a couple of times but in places where a scribe could’ve easily slipped him in (genealogies, a couple of passages where it was probably the word adam translated as man or men, but the context allowed for the insertion of the proper name).

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Zach,

      You are right, much of the OT understands God as a tribal war god but there are a few writers who see more clearly than that and recognize God’s concern for the poor and marginalized.

      Genesis is very weak as a historical document, but I think the creation stories are lovely stories if one understands that they are not historical reports of events that actually happened. I think of those stories as ancient philosophical ponderings about life: Where did we come from? Why do we die? Why is it so difficult to make a living? Why do people kill each other? Why don’t snakes have legs?

      The creation stories have no historical value at all. They provide questions to ponder–not answers.

      Like

      • Zach Van Houten says:

        True. I think the concern for the poor is one of the better features of Judaism.

        I agree that Genesis is a masterpiece in literary terms. And like you said, not historical.

        Like

      • consultgtf says:

        Very nice to hear the original intent retold!
        Old testament is something retold in this era… people can ask thousand doubts?
        But, Is there one human who could/can follow 10 Commandments?

        Can we control our senses before commenting on the world…

        Like

  9. Pingback: 4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: 4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: Do You Still Feel Guilt and Fear because You Fall Short of what God Demands? | Jesus Without Baggage

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