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.
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?
Photo Credit 2: Christian Evolution
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Have a great day! ~Tim