4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People

As a young believer, I was taught that God is angry, harsh, and vindictive. I was taught to be afraid of God and follow strict religious rules or he would punish me in terrible ways; I’m sure many of you were taught the same things. Later, I learned instead that God loves us and desires above all to be reconciled to each of us.

Two major sources that feed the false idea of an angry, vindictive God are harsh passages from the Old Testament and the later idea of eternal punishment in a burning hell. I spoke about these problems in a previous post, The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God.

Today, I share with you some ways belief in a harsh God hurts people.

Meteors

1. Belief in a Harsh, Punishing God Causes Us to Live in Fear

In ancient cultures, gods were widely believed to be the agents of natural events such as rain, wind, and volcanoes. The ancients thought good weather and favorable conditions meant the gods were pleased, while drought, plague, and other catastrophes indicated displeasure. So it was important to please the gods to avoid punishment.

Gods were also understood to be agents of tribal and national success in wars against other groups, so pleasing the demanding gods was very important for victory. These beliefs caused the ancients to fear the gods because displeasing them brought horrible results.

The writers of the Old Testament didn’t understand these things much differently. While there are occasional flashes of insight about a loving God, for the most part God was demanding and his punishments were harsh. God was to be feared, and it was important to understand and observe his many requirements.

To these fears, some believers later added another—eternal punishment in a burning hell. Eternal punishment in hell is not even taught in the Bible, but many believers today think it’s a fact. The combination of the harsh stories of God in the Old Testament and the idea of eternal punishment in burning hell creates intense fear and insecurity that drive the lives and behaviors of many believers.

  • This hurts believers because fear dominates their lives and behavior and stunts moral development.
  • This hurts non-believers because it distorts the good news message of Jesus.
  • This hurts the church because these beliefs give the church an unnecessary bad name, and potential followers of Jesus are dissuaded by them.

2. Belief in a Harsh, Punishing God Causes Us to think We are Worthless and Contemptible

When we reflect on God, it is natural for us to be awed by him/her and to realize God’s immense greatness compared to us, but it does not follow from God’s greatness that we are worthless and contemptible. These demeaning feelings come from teachings that God is angry and disappointed with us and can’t bear to look upon our loathsome selves, but Jesus tells us instead that God loves us very much. Thinking mistakenly that we are worthless or contemptible affects us in many ways, and none of them are healthy.

  • This hurts believers by creating low self-esteem, discouragement, and self-destructive behavior.
  • This hurts non-believers because believers accuse them of being depraved instead of sharing the good news of Jesus.
  • This hurts the church because theses misguided beliefs give the church a bad name, so that potential followers of Jesus do not find the church helpful.

3. Belief in a Harsh, Punishing God often Causes Us to be Harsh Parents

It is interesting how belief in a harsh, punishing God seems to correlate with harsh, punishing parenting. It seems that those who insists on an angry, violent, and demanding God tend to be the same ones who insist on harsh punishment of children. They imitate the way they think the Father relates to them.

  • This hurts families of believers by creating violent, abusive home environments and fostering relationships based on authority and force rather than mutual love.
  • This hurts children because it produces fear instead of trust and partnership, negatively impacts self-esteem and independence, and often continues the violence into future generations.
  • This hurts the church because these beliefs give the church a bad name, and many believers abandon the church when they have opportunity to escape.

4. Belief in a Harsh, Punishing God Causes Us to Hurt Other People

When we think God is harsh and demanding we often intensify our efforts to please him, and we do this is by trying to determine and follow his requirements as perfectly as we can. This burdens us with unnecessary baggage and is NOT the peace, joy, and freedom that God wants for us. It also causes other negative results.

Judging ourselves according to religious rules is the opposite of living a life of love that Jesus promotes and, as well as multiplying our own burden of heavy baggage, it causes us to be judgmental of other people—both believers and unbelievers. We condemn other believers for falling short of God’s requirements and justify our own shortcomings.

Perhaps even worse, we condemn unbelievers—the very people to whom we are supposed to bring the good news of Jesus. We castigate people for being atheists, or gays, or Muslims, or whatever it is about them we disapprove; and we do it in the name of God. We fear God and think he is angry with us, so we pass our anger along to those who fall short of our distorted expectations of what God demands (at best) or (at worst) of our own personal biases—in the name of God.

And all along, God’s desire is that we share with them the good news of love, reconciliation, and eternal life.

  • This hurts the church because these harsh judgments alienate unbelievers and give the church a bad name.
  • This hurts unbelievers because they miss the opportunity to learn about the love of God and the good news of Jesus.
  • This hurts believers because they carry a great burden of judgment on themselves, alienate those around them, and develop a false sense of being persecuted.

Not only is the belief that God is angry and harsh false, but the results of this belief are incredibly harmful to everyone.

How has the concept that God is angry and harsh affected you?

Photo Credit 1: NathanaelBC via Compfight cc
In this series:

6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People (Today’s post)
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 2: Christian Evolution
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs. If you find the blog helpful, consider following to avoid missing future posts.
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Have a great day! ~Tim
This entry was posted in fear, God, hell, legalism, the Good News. Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to 4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People

  1. sheila0405 says:

    Another good post, Tim. Not sure if I like the new lay out. I loved the old one so much and change is hard for me. BTW, my dad ended up having to have his left leg amputated after fighting a foot infection for eight months. It spread very quickly and suddenly. His spirits have been strong, though, as he is a believer in the goodness of God. I think he has mellowed a bit in his old age. I don’t hear about hellfire and brimstone so much anymore. Anyway, thanks for this post.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Sheila, I am sorry about your father losing his leg. That is terrible.

      Thanks for your feedback; I am always open to feedback. What is it about the new format that you like less compared to the old one?

      Like

      • sheila0405 says:

        I liked the old picture, that’s all.

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I agree, Sheila. I thought the header should reflect a better connection with the blog. I don’t have a good graphics program, so I experimented with a simple one. Once I pasted it to the blog I thought the color was wrong, the text seems too weak and faded, and it needs a graphic on the lower left side for balance. I will work on it more when I have time, and if it does not work I might go back to the old nature photo.

          Can anyone suggest a good graphics program?

          Like

          • Zach Van Houten says:

            I like PhotoImpression because it’s free (you can find it on CNet) and it has decent editing functions. However it is not a program to create from scratch. To do that, create a bitmap in paint and then load it for editing. It gets the job done most of the time.

            Like

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Thanks Zach; I will check it out.

            Like

  2. michaeleeast says:

    The tribal god Yahweh behaves very similarly to the other ancient gods.
    The primitive idea that god rewards and punishes us through natural phenomena here on earth is common in the Old Testament. And even David prays for victory in battle.
    Religious violence stems from these ancient ideas and is fuelled by fear.
    The time has come to transcend these ancient ideas and adopt the loving God of Jesus.

    Like

  3. consultgtf says:

    Mind you, If the people were from Tribal group then you can only their God as Tribal! otherwise if they were so learned and well educated that they would have followed 10 Commandments, …
    There was death 3000 years back, so it is now also? but improved versions when people die in a very early stage. Why? who is killing them? It is you and our parents,

    We are not knowing who is the real God! “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
    4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for 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, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    But we follow only other Gods, so enjoying life…

    Like

  4. Zach Van Houten says:

    Reblogged this on Love, Facts, and Honesty and commented:
    Tim Chastain is a great example of where the direction the church needs to head. He is right on target here.

    Like

  5. Zach Van Houten says:

    Love this Tim. Well put.

    Like

  6. Pingback: The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God | Jesus Without Baggage

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

  8. Jeffrey says:

    God is Holy, he cannot tolerate sin, any sin. And yes sin makes him angry, and since the fall we are sinners plain and simple. That is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to conquer sin. He lived the perfect, righteous life under the law. Then he traded his righteousness for our sinfulness. and absorbed the wrath of God on the cross. Wrath that we deserve because of our sin. God sees us as righteous only through Jesus Christ. And if we believe that and follow Jesus as our gracious Savior, we have eternal life! That doesn’t make me fearful (Jesus has saved me), or feel worthless (God loves me enough to die for me), or make me a bad parent (??), or cause me to hurt other people. Because He did this for me, I only want to please Him, I live my life to please Him, and that means following his commandments.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jeffry, I don’t say that you, specifically, felt worthless or are fearful and therefore hurt other people. However, what I said is true of a vast number of fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals. I am glad that you are not affected in this way.

      However, I cannot agree with your review of how God relates to us and your perspective on sin and salvation. For many years I used to believe firmly in every point you made–almost verbatim, but I no longer do. I also follow Jesus and his commandments, but his commandments are for us to love the Father and to love others. He did not command us to follow religious rules.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective.

      Like

      • Jeffrey says:

        JWB…It angers me that you experienced harm at the hands of “Christians” who did nothing to glorify God in their actions and undoubtedly brought shame to His name. My story is very different from yours. I grew up in a nominally Christian, liberal home, but have since come to see the Bible (all of it) as the inspired Word of God. Do you consider yourself a “Red-Letter Christian”?

        Like

        • consultgtf says:

          I agree with Jeffrey, We do nothing to glorify our God instead our actions undoubtedly bring shame to His name. We are shameless about this but…

          1.Discuss in length about our children/we suffering, knowing very well that, WE ARE REASON, it is by our sins, either committed by us, or by our parents.
          2.Try to change God to suit our living style? LIKE THE ISRAELS.
          3. Best of all, WE CHANGE God, expect the new God to be all loving, always forgiving even if you sin, KNOWING THE EFFECT, and just ask for forgiveness!
          4. God is working for our betterment not we, who are engrossed in sinning, Otherwise our life should have changed after Jesus Christ. But we are facing more agony and failures in our efforts, why?

          Let us return back to our Creator, hand over our life completely to Him. He will never give us stone or snake,…He knows what to give… when to give…how much to give…because HE is our Father, GOD THEE FATHER!

          Like

          • Jeffrey says:

            Consultgtf, You are spot on with most of what you say here, but you are stuck at Jesus being our Lord and Savior. Do the gospels in the Bible not clearly teach that Jesus in the begotten Son of God? He claims it himself! Does not the entire Old Testament point to our failures to follow the law and our need for and the eventual coming of Emanuel, “God with us”? The lamb who takes away the sins of the world?

            Like

          • consultgtf says:

            Jeffrey, as stated in our Bible, Let us start from Genesis,

            1.The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. There was only one God!
            2. Exodus 20:1, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. But we have many Gods!
            3. Yes, from the time of our creation till date we are not able to control our senses and follow fully Gods commandments.
            4. Jesus did not get sacrificed to GTF, we killed him!
            5.It is True, Jesus explained, the kingdom of God, forgiveness, loving our neighbors…in parables for better understanding of everyone, like others he had also performed miracles to show the power of faith.
            6. Jesus never claimed himself to be God, only instance like a voice was heard after his baptism,
            he was praying, but He cried to God asking him, why he forsake him? Then He handed over his life…
            7. After his death there was lot of confusion and Constantini brought in the Trinity concept. Until then, there was only ONE GOD and even now, GOD THEE FATHER!

            The world has not improved for betterment, now we have better sins like AIDS, LIVING TOGETHER… we have more sufferings and agony as we are moving away from God towards materialist world, forgetting that this world is a illusion, a transit before we reach our destination!

            How many of us can understand this naked truth?

            Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Jeffrey, I did not experience such great harm at the hands of fundamentalists and conservative evangelical (though others do) except that I was alienated from those who did not believe as we did. But the alienation was because I thought I was different than them and felt rejected. However they did not reject me; I rejected them, and I hurt people with my arrogance and judgmentalism.

          There are two ways I understand ‘Red-Letter Christians’. Some think the words of Jesus stated in the Bible are more important or inspired that the rest of the New Testament. Since the words of Jesus were written from the memories of his followers the same as the rest of the narrative I don’t make a distinction, though I often focus on the words of Jesus because they tend to encapsulate his teaching. On the other hand, descriptions of the acts of Jesus are just as useful.

          The other ‘Red-Letter Christians’ with whom I am familiar seem to focus on issues of social justice. I don’t disagree with them on the importance of social justice, but sometimes they appear to me to be quite legalistic about how other believers should go about social justice and judge them when they do not conform to their standards.

          I hope this helps with your question; if you have other questions I am willing to clarify further.

          Like

  9. consultgtf says:

    I agree with you partially, I don’t believe with anybody who says ” He sent his Son, Jesus Christ” please don’t quote me the vineyard parables, as proof they are parables.
    God is God! kindly don’t make HIM, human, only we have children. HE is above all these relations.
    If Jesus Christ had conquered sin(satan) we should/will not have death. as this is line quoted by all “By one mans sin death entered, while by the man we are redeemed, or we are saved”? Whom are we cheating? ourselves or people who have died in the past 2014 years after Christ?

    How did Jesus absorbed the wrath of God Thee Father? He neither entered Hell nor experienced its agony, then what are we talking about, whose wrath?
    How can God see us as righteous only through Jesus Christ?

    Your last line gives the life’s purpose!

    Like

  10. Hi and thanks for posting. Some very good thoughts here and part of a very relevant conversation is beginning to happen organically in homes and in small groups of faithful people who sense there is more to faith than fear. When you think about it, the first two words that heralded (pun intended) in the Christian era were “Fear not”…spoken to some humble shepherds. And yet the resultant set of rule-speak that often tumbles from the pulpit is very fear-laden.

    If you are interested, I’m blogging my way through Ezekiel. Some of that old testament stuff that is trotted out so often to present a picture of doom and gloom. What I’m finding is often quite the reverse of that and I am finding a more unified concept of God, rather than the Old Testament vs. New Testament that I was raised on as well.

    Keep sharing your thoughts, it’s refreshing to read about other people’s explorations and discoveries. Blessings and peace.
    inopencountry.wordpress.com

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello Open! I really like your observation that the first words pertaining to Jesus and the kingdom are, ‘Fear not.’ I never thought of that.

      I looked around your blog a good bit. I’m not working much in Ezekiel right now, but your blog looks interesting. I agree with you that the contrast between the angry, violent, and vindictive God of the Old Testament and the loving Father of the New Testament is not absolute; there are many places in the Old Testament where the love of God shows through. It is a shame though that it is not consistent, and it is often the angry stories that catch some people’s attention and causes fear.

      Liked by 1 person

      • consultgtf says:

        Very true, Sir, God wants us to get rid ourselves of all the offenses we have/are committing, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why should we die, we were not created to die,

        For He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, He only wants us Repent and live forever!

        But this was the work of the early Christians, to gave new perspective to Jesus and show in good angle, that he is very soft, loving, caring… (but still death is prevalent mind you! )with many new diseases, sins…He sacrificed himself to save us?… (but to whom? when did he suffer?)

        The history shows that the early Christians couldn’t have captured the world if they had spread the real news, that you will be punished if you sin! instead they spread only good news saying that, Jesus is always forgiving even on your death bed, but the truth is truth, We know it for sure!

        We and our Children are suffering for the sins committed by our parents and grand parents, our children and grand children will suffer for the sins we are committing, this this reality, from Adam and Eve, as God has sternly said,

        I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
        “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
        “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for 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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

        At least, Now can we repent? and go back to our Father and live with HIM forever?

        We, Humans can visit other planets, but are not able to control our senses? Why not?

        Like

    • consultgtf says:

      Agreed, if we have faith meaning love, we will/can never sin? It is same as wife or husband will never cheat if they love each other and their family, very similarly…

      Fear creeps in, when you make a mistake, otherwise it is only love! God created us, out of love, He wanted us enjoy the world, everything in the sky and waters but we were very smart not follow his simple command, even today we are in the same situation, still not able to control our senses?

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  11. consultgtf says:

    Sorry, I missed the basic question, When did God tell you that you should be afraid of me?

    My understanding, from Genesis:- (You are welcome to add more…)
    1. God created humans, Adam and Eve, no liability. due to pure love
    2. Human race wanted to be like God, ate from the tree of knowledge which was forbidden.
    3. God did not punish harshly instead asked them leave , place created for us, Eden where there would have no worries or agony that we are undergoing now.
    4. Cain killed Abel, God eliminated Cain for KILLING Abel, same as what is repeated now. you stop and then ask God to stop.
    5. The people sinned and and enjoyed sinning, while some prayed for redemption, He sent Moses and delivered them safely.
    6. Once they were in the desert, people forgot their past and WANTED new NOT punishing God, cow idol was out come.
    7. God gave commandments to follow, while they were forbidden to enter the promised land…
    8. Noah was saved while the entire earth was washed-out as their sins was of such high degree.
    9. Meanwhile Job was tested for his faith, but given back in multiple folds.
    10. …and this will continue till today. but

    In which instance, God has just played with us for the sake of His enjoying. If you think, He punishing, it will be either for your sins or those committed by our parents or grand parents!
    He is our God. Our “God Thee Father”

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  12. A question, if I may. What exactly makes a punishing, vindictive God WRONG or BAD? On what basis are you opposed to the idea, and committed to rationalizing it using later texts? After all, according to divine command theory, there’s no other basis for defining what is “good”, or “bad”, than understanding God’s will or God’s essence. Based on this idea, whatever God is, or whatever God does or says, is the definition of “good”, and we’d have no other basis from which to say “No, God wouldn’t do that because it isn’t good.” Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Otherwise, to say that the descriptions of a later text are preferred to those of an earlier text because in those God is “good” and not “bad” is to have an definition of “good” and “bad” which precedes the text, doesn’t rely on God, and therefore doesn’t require God. Divine command theory is false, then.

    To exaggerate the point: if God committed rape, or said “rape is good”, then would it be?

    I hope you agree that’s a “NO.” Divine command theory is false, then, regardless of whether we have a working replacement (which we do, but that’s off topic.)

    Best Regards
    Yariv from EA

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks for this interesting and important question and response, Yariv. This is indeed the approach many believers take: “Whatever God does or says, is the definition of ‘good’.” But, along with you, I disagree with this view.

      It’s possible that an ultimate being–even a creator–might be punishing and vindictive and consider this to be a good thing. But such a being cannot convince me that it is good. It might force me against my will to agree with it because of its greater power, but it would never convince me against what I know in my heart to be true.

      Such a being might have total power over me, but such a being is unworthy of devotion. This is the attitude of tyrants throughout history, and God is sometimes portrayed in this manner in the Old Testament. Fortunately, however, Jesus gives us a clearer understanding of what God is like, and I am willing to follow his God of love.

      Yariv, I am interested in your replacement to ‘Divine Command’ theory.

      Like

      • consultgtf says:

        Sir, there is no perfect definition for good and bad, as what we think is good today may turn out to be worst, as time passes. what we think as bad will always be good.
        One mans food is another mans poison!
        In human perspective, it maybe Good or Bad, but as God can see the future, He knows it consequence…
        Our God is punishing God only, but punishing who have committed sin, against his fellow being…Ten commandments given by Him, do you think they are commandments if followed will please Him? No, as per my understanding He wants us to live a harmonious life,
        From 1 to 4th Commandment, it is teaches us about God and his mercy,
        The 5th commandment is for today’s child and for tomorrows parent.
        Society is benefited by 6th 8th 9th 10th Commandment.
        Husband and wife relationship, is 7th commandment.

        And we call Him, angry, punishing,vindictive… all for whom and how? when one person is affected by breaking any of the above, He prays to God, and God being God has to react, when He does He is angry, punishing,vindictive…who is root cause?

        Can we do a RCA for our sufferings? Can we do it today for one of the major problem, to minimise our next time?

        Like

    • consultgtf says:

      Perfect, your words are to written in bold, “Whatever God is, or whatever God does or says, is the definition of “good”,
      We have group, discussing on this topic and to brand God as bad, so they can blame Him for all the sufferings they are undergoing and agony they are facing, forgetting the first commandment, itself.

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  13. consultgtf says:

    God by the meaning itself is all powerful, mercy and knows only love. Or why should HE create humans?
    God NEVER HURTS ANYONE, when HE gets call from the affected parties AND IF IT IS SEVERE ONLY THEN HE reacts, that’s all!

    HOW MANY OF US, HAVE NOT REPORTED EVEN A SINGLE DISCREPANCY TILL DAY?

    Imagine how many petitions, HE has attend per day, per minute, per second, from every corner of EARTH!
    What should be HIS response time?…still WE BLAME GOD!?

    Like

  14. Paul says:

    Whatever God is or isn’t, we all need to admit one thing. God has to be the worst communicator ever! I’d give him/her/it a F in communications haha!

    Like

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

  16. Ahmed says:

    4.Believe in harsh punishment by God causes us to hurt other people. I read this actical on your site. It has grave meaning for me and caused great concern and tremendous amount of fear. It has such power and it can influence many. Plus in other parts of the world explains why mullahs have been so dependent upon this doctrine with such success. This fear is very powerful and when indoctnated 24/7 we see and feel the results. In Daesh.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Ahmed, thank you for bringing your perspective to this problem; and I agree with you. It is clear from events over the past few years that this principle of believing Allah to be angry and punishing has caused some Muslims to hurt other people in the name of Allah. Daesh is an extreme example.

      But this problem is certainly not limited to certain Muslims–it is evident among some Christians as well. And those Christians can be very loud, public, and vicious in their attacks on those whom they feel are under God’s anger and punishment.

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