Many people at some point decide to begin reading the Bible. But the Bible is a very large book; where should they begin? A large percentage begin at the beginning, of course—Genesis! Genesis is an interesting book: there are creation stories, human conflicts, names and genealogies; and then the stories of Abraham appear—even those who have not read the Bible before have heard of Abraham.
But when we read Genesis we don’t get far—long before we encounter Abraham—we don’t get far before we run into a shocking episode in which essentially every person on Earth dies a horrible death. And the source of this massive death and destruction is…angry God.
We are talking, of course, of the story of Noah and the Flood. When we read this story uncritically, assuming it to be an historical account, it is difficult to avoid forming some conclusions about the God who caused this catastrophe. And weighing large among those conclusions is the perception of God as angry, harsh, and vindictive. As we continue to read the Old Testament we will find other stories that seem to confirm this conclusion, but we get a huge taste of it right here in the early chapters of Genesis.
How Understanding God as Angry, Harsh, and Vindictive Can Affect Us Negatively
Many people assume the stories about God in the Old Testament are true and accurate. Even if it occurs to them as odd that the writers knew all this detailed inside information on God’s thoughts, actions, and motivations, they can further assume that God must have ‘revealed’ it to them somehow.
After reading these stories about God, we can either recoil from from the angry, harsh, and vindictive God of the Flood story and other violent Old Testament stories, or we can decide that all-powerful God can do what all-powerful God wants to do and cannot be accused of any culpability—that is we must accept God as God is represented in the Old Testament.
However, I think there is a better resolution, and that is to realize that the Old Testament was not directed by God but was written by numerous people, over a long period of time, who felt a strong connection with God but wrote within the limitations of their own eras and cultures, and with a very inadequate grasp of God’s character. They wrote stories and dialogues based on WHAT THEY THOUGHT GOD WAS LIKE.
But, once we accept that God is the God of intentional atrocity, it has to affect us. When we decide that God’s character includes bringing cruel pain and retribution on people—the very God who is the moral center of the Universe—a change can occur within us in which we begin to become like what we think God is like, and we ourselves become angry, harsh, and vindictive.
Just think of the many issues among certain believers today: harshness, anger, enmity, exclusion, judgmentalism, condemnation, condescension, deprecation. They act as they think God acts; they think they are following God’s own example—but they are mistaken.
There is a Much Better Insight into What God is Really Like–Jesus
There is a better source than Old Testament stories for insight into what God is like, and that source is Jesus. Jesus teaches us about God. He does this by talking about the loving God but also by personally representing the loving God. There is no clearer insight into God than in the teachings, example, and character of Jesus. In fact, John 3 says that God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus.
Jesus tells a beautiful story relating to God’s love in the parable of the lost son. The son took his inheritance and squandered it until he was destitute, then he crawled back to his father to ask for a menial job as a laborer. However, Luke 15 says:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
God loves us! We are valuable to God. God is NOT angry, harsh, and vindictive toward us. At this point, some might mention the terrible ‘condemnations’ against some of the Pharisees that do seem quite angry, harsh, and vindictive. But I don’t see these as condemnations but as warnings of the natural consequences of their proud and condescending behavior.
Following Jesus in Empathy, Compassion, and Care
The best way for us to become like God in our attitudes is to follow the teaching and example of Jesus, and I do not see Jesus being angry, harsh, or vindictive; nor would he destroy humanity in a flood. Instead, Jesus consistently shows God’s love in empathy, compassion, and care for others. And the more we understand God’s great love for us the more we are able to internalize that love and begin, ourselves, to show empathy, compassion, and care for others.
So let us better understand God’s love so that we can change what we might have thought God to be like, and in doing so we will begin to be more like God in loving others.
Articles in this series: Angry God
We Often Become What We THINK God is Like: Angry God Part 1
We Often Create God in Our Own Image: Angry God Part 2
Did God Pour Out His Wrath on Jesus During His Violent Death on the Cross?: Angry God Part 3
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