God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought

Do you think God is angry, harsh, and vindictive toward us? Millions of people do, and I used to believe it myself—for good reason. All the preachers, teachers, and other church leaders taught that he is; if we don’t walk the straight and narrow, God will pour out his wrath on us. It was constantly in the pulpits, on the religious radio programs, and in Christian books, magazines, and tracts I read.

Even American Literature books often include the famous sermon by Jonathan Edwards:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Jesus Tells Us the Truth about God’s Love

Jesus does not support this perspective of God’s relationship toward us. Instead, he tells us that the Father loves all people and wishes to give them eternal life, which begins as a new quality of life we can have today and continues in eternal life after our resurrection.

Jesus speaks of the quality of our current eternal life in his conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. After she asked him about the well water, Jesus answered:

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

In my opinion, this present aspect of eternal life is not sufficiently emphasized among believers today. But as we understand the truth of the Father’s love for us, our inner quality of life changes dramatically. We no longer feel alienated from God; our fear and anxiety dissipate; our self-image improves; and we are more at peace with ourselves and other people. As we continue to grow in love our inner life continues to improve.

The Good News of John 3:16

In John 3:16, the most well-known passage of the Bible, Jesus makes an even stronger statement about the love of God and eternal life:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

This refers, I think, both to the quality of our present life and to our life after death. It is a powerful statement of God’s love for us. But some believers counteract this Good News message by inserting the idea of an angry and harsh God into John 3:16—and changing the message into something else.

Here is their typical understanding of John 3:16 with added assumptions:

God so loved the world [though he can’t bear to look at us because of our sin] that he gave his one and only Son [to suffer and die on the cross in our place and take the punishment for our sins], that whoever believes in him [and prays the sinner’s prayer] shall not perish [in the eternal fires of hell] but have eternal life.

None of the bracketed concepts are part of the Good News of John 3:16 at all. They are misguided assumptions, and they cause fear, alienation, and other great harm. In fact, they turn the good news of Jesus into bad news.

We can understand John 3:16 better by taking note of the context of the passage.

Jesus and Nicodemus

Jesus and Nicodemus Providence Lithograph Company [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Context of John 3:16

If we read from the beginning of the chapter, we will see that this statement about God’s love builds on Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus about entering the kingdom of God. If you like, you can read it on a separate window at John 3.

Nicodemus, a rigid legalistic Pharisee, approached Jesus about Jesus’ relationship with God. Apparently Jesus sensed Nicodemus’ true concern and replied that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they change their old perspectives about what God requires and become as receptive and teachable as a baby.

It was in this context that John writes:

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

But the context continues. The very next thing he writes is:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

God did NOT send Jesus to the world to condemn people; nor, by the way, does he call on his followers to condemn people. He sent Jesus to save the world. This is an amazing contrast to what many believers understand about God’s mission for Jesus.

But what does it mean to ‘save’ people? It certainly does not mean to save them from eternal punishment in a burning hell, as some believers teach. Rather Jesus saves us from our alienation from God, ourselves, and other people. He saves us from fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. He saves us from our destructive and self-destructive behavior and the consequences that follow them.

John continues:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

It is wonderful to learn that those who believe in Jesus experience eternal life in this lifetime and are not condemned to their old experience of alienation, negative feelings, and destructive behavior. But does John mean that those who do not believe in Jesus are robbed of these benefits for the rest of their life? I don’t think so.

Those who don’t believe can yet believe in Jesus and his Good News at some point—they are not forever barred. Even after death, there will likely be many who, with clearer minds and a clearer understanding of Jesus, will believe and experience eternal life after death; but they will have missed the quality of eternal life during their natural existence.

Yeah, but What about the Stories of Angry God in the Old Testament?

Those who read the Old Testament can easily conclude from certain passages that God IS angry, harsh, violent, and vindictive. What about these stories? The short answer is that many ancient Israelites did think God was angry and harsh, and they attributed many misfortunes to him; however, I think they were mistaken. You can read more about that at The God of the Old Testament vs. the Father of the New Testament.

Jesus tells a much different story about God. One huge result of learning Jesus’ Good News of the Father’s unconditional love for us is that it releases us from our burdens of fear, guilt, and self-condemnation. We will talk more about that next time.

In this series so far:

What is the Good News of Jesus Anyway?
God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought (Today’s post)
God’s Love for Us Takes Away Our Fear, Guilt, and Self-Condemnation
Do You Still Feel Guilt and Fear because You Fall Short of what God Demands?
We are not to Follow Burdensome Religious Rules
We are Agents for Expanding God’s Kingdom on Earth
Death is Not the End because Jesus Offers Us Eternal Life and Happiness
When the Good News of Jesus Doesn’t Sound like Good News At All

The Good News of Jesus

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Have a great day! ~Tim
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32 Responses to God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought

  1. michaeleeast says:

    The context of Nicodemus for John 3:16 is interesting.
    Also that Jesus mission was not to condemn but to save.
    Where does that leave Revelation and the Second Coming?


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good question, Michael. I think the book of Revelation is a very symbolic book written to comfort believers who were being heavily persecuted by the Romans. The message, in short, was: Jesus has not abandoned us and the church will prevail.

      It was not written to 20th and 21st century believers to disclose the events of the endtimes.


  2. Well said, Tim, and I strongly agree with you on all points! 🙂

    My only slight caveat would be that I do believe that God sometimes gets angry, *but* that his anger arises only from his love not from hate, and is always directed to our redemption not our destruction. Like you, I strongly reject ideas of God as vindictive or vengeful.

    I think that sometimes (just occasionally) we may experience God’s love as something painful and hard, because he has to address dearly-held but destructive ways in us, and the ‘operation’ can hurt like a surgeon’s knife. But I believe that he never acts towards us out of anything but complete love and grace and mercy, and desiring only ever our good.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Harvey, I can agree with you that we might sometimes feel that God is angry as he works with us to grow, but that he is never vindictive or vengeful. What might feel like pain to us is not domination or harshness but our guilt and resistance to change as we know we should.

      So Yes! I think God acts toward us in complete love, grace, and mercy–desiring our own good.


      • Interesting idea that we *feel* God is angry with us, but that actually it’s our resistance to change that’s causing us pain.

        On one level, I’d say that to speak of God as ‘angry’ always has to be an anthropomorphism and a metaphor. But then, if we can meaningfully speak of humans as beings made in his image and likeness, then it may not be so much of a stretch to infer that God has emotions or something akin to them.

        As I blogged recently, I don’t think anger in itself is inherently a bad thing, though it can easily be used for ill. If God is ever angry though, it’s surely with injustice and things that cause harm to those who he loves ( = everyone).


  3. Marc says:

    A comprehensive survey of the Holy Scriptures reveals the recurring theme of our need to make the choice between eternal life and eternal death. As the Physician of our souls and bodies, God’s diagnoses and treatments can be “punishing.” However, His will is that we all make the choice to be healed and experience eternal life. Because our free will is not fully experienced in this life, there is a spiritual dimension to this process that remains a mystery. We cannot exclude the possibility that in the end, all human beings will be saved.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      This is true, though I think it is only a possibility. I cannot discount human free will, and I don’t think God will override that. However, I believe any who reject the offer of eternal life will not be punished–they will simply cease to exist which is the natural consequence of death without God’s provision of eternal life.


      • SDM says:

        What about those who never experience the offer of eternal life, e.g.: isolated tribes, those who have been raised without any spiritual direction, or children, and if children are considered an automatic “in” then who decides at what age they aren’t considered “in”?

        I personally don’t think anyone ceases to exist, and that when we pass, each of us experience different levels of “heaven” depending on our souls evolution, and that we continue to grow and evolve and change levels as we progress. And so, to me, I believe that everyone is “saved” (for lack of a better word).

        Blessings 🙂


        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          SDM, I believe that everyone will have an opportunity to hear and accept the offer of eternal life, even though it might not be in their natural lifetime.


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Hi Tony, I have spent some time on your site today, and I like it. However, I did not see a way to ‘like’ posts, and I could not comment because WordPress would not accept the only WordPress user name and password I have.

            I also subscribed to your blog by RSS, and I added your post on life after death to my page of resources for hell (see resources on the menu bar).

            Thanks so much for helping me connect with you. You have some really good stuff, and I look forward to more.


          • sheila0405 says:

            Tim, there are two different WordPress blogs. There is wordpress.com and wordpress.org. If you are only a member of one, you cannot comment on the other. This is frustrating to me. BTW, I got around to posting today.


          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Thanks for the info Sheila–I did not realize this. I will check out your post this afternoon.


  4. sheila0405 says:

    Tim, I just finished Peter Enn’s book “Genesis For Normal People”. He addresses the harsh and angry God that some see in that first book. However, as we are reminded by the author, Genesis is only part one of a longer story, and reveals God’s ultimate faithfulness to Israel. Then, through Israel, God makes clear that the whole world will share in the blessings of that nation. I also read Rob Bell’s book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God”. Those two authors give insight as to what God was saying to a particular audience at a particular time. I just picked up N.T. Wright’s book about the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve heard good things about him, so I am starting out slowly with this little book. I am amazed at how focusing on God’s love and ultimate plan for humanity has comforted me.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, I have not read that book be Enns, but I have read others. I have also read some of N.T. Wright’s works, and I generally like him. I think he is a good author to read. You are quite a reader! We have that in common.


  5. johnamilton says:

    I agree. Here is the address of where I have started writing down my thoughts.


  6. Pingback: God’s Love for Us Takes Away Our Fear, Guilt, and Self-Condemnation | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Pingback: What is the Good News of Jesus Anyway? | Jesus Without Baggage

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

  9. There are sometimes when I think I must have been blessed to grow up in a house ruled by raging alcoholics, rather than being raised in church. I think that’s one reason I have a different perspective on this. I faced what you faced as a child, as an adult. I guess, we all have to sift out the bad messages we received as children. And even though, you say you didn’t experience religious abuse, I think some of what you were subjected to was every bit as emotionally abusive as some of the things my alcoholic parents did to me. I believe false teachings are a matter of intent and I see some very bad intent and a lot of ignorance in the religious authorities in your childhood. I’m sorry you were treated that way, Tim.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Pam, some might describe my religious upbringing as abusive, but it was not people who were abusive but the religious baggage itself. I don’t think anyone selfishly manipulated me with the misguided beliefs–they actually believed (as I did) what we were taught. I agree that this world-view included plenty of ignorance, but I don’t think there was malicious intent.

      In any case, I am free of it now and willing to help others who are facing the same, or a similar, situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The cycle of abuse is often passed down because people don’t know better and also, because of willful ignorance. The way to break that is by finding the truth, facing it, and applying it. Which I think you are doing. A lot of the teachings you write about, I was exposed to as an adult, with my adult choice. I could question and not get in trouble for doing it. Anyway, God was never angry with you Tim. You were just a kid and according to Jesus, those teachers should have been trying to become more like you instead of trying to force you to be like them. I’m glad you feel that you are past it and hold no grudges but I’m still sad you were treated that way.


    • sheila0405 says:

      I promise you, it is not intentional. I was raised in a fundamentalist home, and my parents really BELIEVED in the veracity of their theology. You can say people have been tricked I think that’s often the case. Bad theology passed down from someone’s bad interpretation of what the Bible is all about, and then that got handed down over centuries. My parents were well meaning–my dad died in April still believing, but my parents always wanted what was good for us, and never abused me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Sheila, I spent some years in a fundamental church too but I chose it as an adult, without knowing exactly what I was getting into. I see it now as a part of my spiritual growth and I kind of passed through fundamentalism. I was trying to put myself in the place of a child, having that same experience by no choice of my own. I think it all would have affected me very differently. I also, know many loving, even spirit-filled, fundamentalists along with those that seem very unspiritual and highly religious. I’m not trying to judge anyone and I hope I don’t come across that way. I’m just trying to understand another’s point of view.:0) I’m glad your parents love you and treated you right.


  10. Pingback: We are not to Follow Burdensome Religious Rules | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: We are Agents for Expanding God’s Kingdom on Earth | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Pingback: Death is Not the End Because Jesus Offers Us Eternal Life and Happiness | Jesus Without Baggage

  13. consultgtfc says:

    When was God Angry and Harsh with Us? From the day of creation till today, He is only one reason for our heart to function without even stopping for a single second, similarly our nose, ear, tongue, skin…all our sense organs are working to please humans only not its creator!
    Yes, He is harsh, not to everyone, then none of us would be alive, but He is angry and harsh to those who deserve. So can we brand him BAD God, because he punishes? He had told us very clearly in the beginning, in Exodus {20:2} I [am] the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the house of bondage. {20:3} Thou shalt have no other gods before me. {20:4} Thou shalt not
    make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth: {20:5} 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; {20:6} And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments
    But we are not able to, CONTROL OUR SENSES, and worship All, except the Creator and as we fail tremendously. similarly let us enjoy the given punishment also, without grumbling, though!


  14. Pingback: When the Good News of Jesus Doesn’t Sound like Good News At All | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Pingback: Have Some Believers’ Focus on ‘Getting Saved’ Replaced Jesus’ Message of the Good News? | Jesus Without Baggage

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