Last time we talked about how thinking God to be angry, violent, and vindictive, based on Old Testament stories like the flood and the genocide of the Canaanites, can cause us to be angry, violent, and vindictive too in imitation of our view of God. Don’t we all want to align with powerful God?
But I think something else is going on as well—a flip side. Many of us actually create God in OUR OWN image and to our liking, and we are often attracted to the angry, violent, and vindictive god of the Old Testament stories because we are already angry, violent, and vindictive toward others. We want God to align with US.
So it can work either way or even both ways: angry god stories from the Old Testament give us the excuse to also be angry and violent, and this angry god is satisfying to us because we are already angry and violent.
The Self-Centeredness of the Human Condition
People are often very self-centered, tribalistic, and hostile toward other people. Power and greed are factors that drive this attitude and its associated behaviors; we want to benefit ourselves at the expense of other people. Insecurity and fear are other factors; we want protection against the world.
So we create God to be what WE want God to be. A God who favors us over others can be a very helpful tool. We want a God who uses his mighty power to our personal advantage and that of our tribe.
God, work in my favor to achieve my desires, agenda, and advantage. Use your power to advance me and my tribe. Defeat our enemies, whom we hate, and transfer what they have to us. Stand with my anger, violence, and vindictiveness with your own anger, violence, and vindictiveness working in my behalf.
Bless me and mine and curse my enemies.
Having a God working toward our favor has a powerful unifying effect on a tribe.
Calling on God to favor the Israelites and to destroy their enemies is very evident in the conquest stories against Canaan. In writing their history, the Israelites claimed harsh destruction against the Canaanites, but the storyline was that the atrocities against the Canaanites were by the command and direction of angry god. From 1 Samuel 15 for example:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, 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.’
This is not unique. Tribes and cultures throughout history believed their gods, whomever they might be, were working in their behalf against their enemies. It is often the same among believers today. We call upon God to support us in defeating our enemies or prosper us instead of our enemies. In fact, we believe that our hate and violence against our enemies is commanded by angry god.
Jesus’ Message of the Loving God Who is NOT Angry, Violent, and Vindictive
Perhaps it is natural and normal to imagine that the gods favor us and our tribe against our enemies and keep us fed, prosperous, and safe from harm; what else is a god for? But Jesus has an opposite attitude. He tells us of a God who loves us—and not just us and our tribe but all humanity. Whereas angry god condemns and punishes, the God presented by Jesus is loving and supportive.
We also see God’s attitude toward us demonstrated through the teaching and example of Jesus. Jesus teaches us to love God, but how can we love a God who is so angry, hostile, and vindictive? Jesus also teaches us to love others as we love ourselves, and he does not restrict this love to our own friends and tribe; instead he tells us to love our enemies and even to pray for the good of our enemies. Jesus replaces tribal exclusiveness with radical inclusiveness, which is evident throughout his personal actions.
Jesus demonstrates empathy, compassion, and care toward everyone; even his argument against certain Pharisees rose, not from hate, but to impress upon them that they needed to embrace the marginalized instead of piling legalistic burdens upon them.
How Should Jesus’ Teaching and Example Impact Us and Our View of God?
Having an understanding of a loving God rather than an angry, harsh, vindictive god should affect us in a number of ways.
1. We should realize that Old Testament writers were mistaken about this aspect of God’s character and misrepresented God in their stories of anger, violence, and vindictiveness.
2. We should no longer fear God’s harshness toward us because God is not harsh toward us. In particular, we should no longer think that God will punish us for eternity in hell; this isn’t true and the Bible does not even teach this.
3. We should examine our attitudes and behavior toward people who are not like us or whom we consider to be our enemies.
4. We should practice radical inclusiveness, as Jesus did.
5. We should love others with empathy, compassion, and care.
What about the Violent Death of Jesus?
If God is a loving God rather than an angry, vindictive god, then how do we account for God pouring out his wrath on Jesus during his violent death on the cross? I am glad you asked that question (those of you who did). We will talk about that next time.
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