We Often Create God in Our Own Image: Angry God Part 2

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.

Angry, violent God

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

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60 Responses to We Often Create God in Our Own Image: Angry God Part 2

  1. I think you may also need to address the violent language of Jesus in regard to punishment in the after life. Jesus does use threats of divine violence. Even the Gospels are not exempt from tribal human god language. Matthew is the worst. John the least. But it does seem to be there in the tradition of Jesus’ words. We cannot opt for Jesusnagainst the OT. We all have to choose our concept of God. There are good reasons for choosing what you do, but not for the reason that Jesus presents a nonviolent loving God and the OT doesn’t.
    Tom Johnson

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    • Anthony Paul says:

      “Jesus does use threats of divine violence.”

      Thomas, this is a rather broad statement with which I do not personally agree. When we look at the discourses Jesus had with The Pharisees with whom He was most at odds, we come to a place where He calls them “sons of the devil”… it seems to me that if there were ever a time and place where Jesus could have spoken in a tone of hell-bound condemnation this would have been it. On the contrary, on several occasions in speaking with the Pharisees and others of like mind He tells them that “prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the Kingdom before they do.” Jesus has a great deal to say about the deadly nature of sin, but I don’t believe He ever directly condemned anyone to hell — rather strange for someone who spoke so plainly, don’t you think?

      One other person in the NT whom so many have relegated to hell is Judas Iscariot… Jesus said of him, “Better that he had never been born”. What we decide about God’s view regarding people going to hell is more a result of our own mental inclinations than anything Jesus has said about it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom Johnson says:

        “but I don’t believe He ever directly condemned anyone to hell”

        Right. I agree with that statement. But Jesus is recorded as threatening divine eschatological violence in numerous places, esp. in Matthew. The earliest Christians continued this theme in their writings (Jude, Revelation, 2 Clement, et al.). Maybe Tim is right that this is just Jesus saying “If you screw up in this life, you have hell to pay in the next.” But that is exactly my point. This is a threat of divine violence, a motivation hardly based on God’s love, mercy, grace, or forgiveness. I wish the evidence were otherwise.

        I do not believe there is anything like a hell of eternal conscious suffering. My sole points in this discussion are that we (1) we have to be honest with all the evidence, and (2) we all must choose the concept of God we will live and die by. It does not arise naturally, exegetically, out of any part of the Bible, OT or NT.

        Thanks for letting participate in this discussion.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Anthony Paul says:

          Speaking for myself, I couldn’t agree with you more when you point out that “…we all must choose the concept of God we will live and die by…” But, without denying that they are there, I don’t feel that I need to focus on those parts of Scripture which create uncertainty, anxiety, and fear… I simply choose to accept God at His word when He says “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” One point cannot be disputed: throughout both the OT and the new, God is looking for a change of heart among His people. Jesus quotes this very passage from Hosea back to the Pharisees in Matt 13… they understood the mechanics of what God demanded of them in the Levitical sacrifices in the temple; but they failed to grasp the concept that it is our hearts that He wishes to possess and to change and not just our minds.

          Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Tom, you make some good points and I agree that we must be honest with the evidence.

          The apocalyptic discourse in Matthew 24 does sound threatening, but I think Jesus is not threatening but warning. He had the insight to see that if the Jews kept up their rebelliousness against the Romans then they would be crushed by Rome; this wasn’t that hard to predict, and it happened in 70 AD much as Jesus predicted. And it was Rome, not God, that did it.

          So Matthew 24 was not a threat but a warning.

          Jesus did use apocalyptic language, however, which was not uncommon in his time and culture, and so did other writers in the New Testament. Apocalyptic was a genre with its own characteristics and purposes, but it was not a preview or prophecy of actual events in the future.

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          • Tom Johnson says:

            I’ve often wondered how literally first century folks took the hyperbole of apocalyptic. I know we don’t. But I’m less sure about them.
            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Tom, I agree. I would love to go back and see how they interacted with Jesus and his followers.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thomas, thanks for your contribution. I must agree with Anthony that Jesus did not threaten anyone with divine violence. What some consider threats and condemnation I understand as warnings of the natural consequences of misguided behavior.

      One thing that also causes some of Jesus’ statement to seem threatening and violent is that Jesus often used imagery and extreme hyperbole to get his point across, and this comes across as harsh, sometimes shockingly so, to readers today. But I don’t think they indicate a violent, threatening God (or Jesus).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, there are two items in the consensus gospel derived from the three synoptic gospels where Jesus is supposed to have referred to hell:
        Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul, but be afraid of the One who can destroy the soul in hell.
        Things that cause people to stumble will come, but woe to the person through whom they come. If your hand, or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter eternal life maimed, or crippled than to have both hands and feet, yet be thrown into the fire of hell, and if you eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out. It is better for you to enter eternal life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

        Liked by 1 person

        • tonycutty says:

          Aye but how many Christians do you see going around with self-inflicted eye injuries? And how many with only one hand? (Having *both* hands missing, at least by self-inflicted amputation, does present certain practical problems. Think about it ; ) )

          It is plain that no Christian’s hands or eyes are actually innocent of sin; we all fall short, don’t we? But I will not be mutilating myself anytime soon, and neither I suspect will you or anyone else we know. In fact, people who do that sort of thing are seriously disturbed and need help. Expensive help.

          No, these self-mutilating behaviours in Jesus’s monologue here are *always* accepted as hyperbole, parable or at least in some way the excuse is made to not take it literally. Why then do we accept the bits about hell-fire as literal when the rest of the passage is not intended to be literal? I think that’s worth thinking about…

          Liked by 2 people

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Good points, Tony. But we do have the example of early Church Father, Origen, who castrated himself. The rest of the Church leadership mightily disapproved.

            Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I think “It is better for you to enter eternal life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell” is an excellent example of Jesus’ use of hyperbole!

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          • Chas says:

            Tim, my response has to be as before: I do not believe that Jesus ever said these things, nor do I believe that he would ever have used hyperbole, because it would have confused uneducated people.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. tonycutty says:

    I’d also say that insecurity and fear are the main underlying causes of power and greed. The desire to control our surroundings and circumstances in order to make things safe and predictable is a very powerful motivator. But when perfect Love drives out all fear, we are gradually weaned off the need to be in control, and to relax into God’s care. Resting in His Love is the ultimate security 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, you might very well be right but power and greed sometimes seem to be their own motivation. In either case it is not good.

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  3. tonycutty says:

    Also I must say that this is a very perceptive piece you have written. I am really looking forward to reading more.

    About the Canaanites, I read recently (in Pete Enns: ‘The Bible Tells Me So’) that actually the Canaanite invasion and genocide never actually happened; there is no corroborating evidence of it in any history so far discovered. One wonders if in fact the story was just that: a story…with spiritual meaning and interpretation, of course, like a parable I suppose, but nonetheless it is fiction. And so Enns’s conclusiong is that God did not in fact order the genocide of the Canaanites, because that genocide didn’t actually happen. Personally, I am not qualified to comment on that, but I do have a lot of respect for Pete Enns and his work. Interesting stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I agree with you that the ‘conquest’ did not actually occur; it was more of an assimilation on a much smaller and gradual scale than the stories indicate. Another reason for the stories might very well be the glorification of the history of Israel and of the kingdom of David.

      Peter Enns is one of my favorite authors!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Tony, The evidence suggests that the Jewish people were themselves Canaanites. Their alphabet is a direct descendant of the Phoenician (a Canaanite people) one. For reasons that are not altogether clear, they decided to separate themselves from their neighbors. It might be that the sudden lifting of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah (because the Egyptians were approaching) made a great impression on the ruling/priestly classes, causing them to believe that Yahweh was the supreme god.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. tonycutty says:

    “…put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys”

    But you can spare the chickens. They do lay eggs, after all… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. newtonfinn says:

    To be faithful to the gospel tradition (taken as a whole), I think it fairly certain that Jesus is remembered as having stood firmly in the prophetic tradition. This stance entailed the calling down of righteous judgment upon not the weak individual sinner (of the flesh), but upon the rich and powerful hypocrites (sinners of the spirit) who claimed to be holy while cruelly exploiting or utterly ignoring “the least of these.” It also seems evident that Jesus pointed to Gehenna, the valley of fire where Jerusalem’s garbage was incinerated, to make vividly concrete his warnings to the rich and powerful about the ultimate trajectory of their lives. Was this tough, terrifying language merely a rhetorical device to drive home his point, or did Jesus actually feel (and express) anger and outrage toward the few who wallowed in wealth and influence, while so many desperate people around them were literally starving? Here, I suspect, is where one’s Christology comes into play. Tim makes a good case that it was mainly the former or, perhaps more accurately, some of both. I tend to agree with this interpretation, but I also see Jesus as embodying, in the fullness of his incarnation, the extremes of human emotion, ecstatic joy and excruciating suffering, extravagant mercy and fiery indignation. What I hold on to, at the end, are those words of Jesus on the cross, where he seeks the Father’s forgiveness for those who “know not what they do.” For me, that dying prayer was offered not just for Jesus’ executioners, but for all of us. And it is my hope and my faith that the Father granted the final request of the Son.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Paz says:

    I think it is important to remember the cultural context and the era when and where the language was used at the time, perhaps even how people may have expressed themselves (verbally/ behaviour) and how much this has changed/evolved over time. The way we speak today and how we interpret what we say and what we do has not always remained the same throughout history. The way people communicate today to address issues, to try to bring awareness and/or change is not quite the same as even just going back fifty years ago… And I think this also applies to how Jesus tried to communicate, that is, according to the time/culture/period in history, etc, which I think has also influenced the way he spoke, reacted and addressed important issues, how he tried to raise awareness and/or change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • newtonfinn says:

      So true, Paz. I’ve read that Jesus’ language of judgment concerning the rich and powerful was similar to rhetoric not only in the prophetic scriptures but also in the popular rabbinic literature of his day. Same, of course, with the use of male pronouns to speak of God (with the exception of what appears to be a female holy spirit). This highlights the need to interpret ancient words in their own contexts, not in the context of contemporary usage. If you focus on the masculinity of Jesus’ God language, calling God father, Jesus appears to be conservative and reactionary from a modern feminist perspective. But if you focus on his references to Abba (an affectionate family name for father), Jesus is about as cutting-edge and progressive as one could be IN HIS ERA. Again, this is where one’s Christology comes into play–was Jesus all-knowing despite being human in other ways, was he human in all ways and thus culturally conditioned like the rest of us, or something somewhere in the middle?

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow, Paz! I think you nailed it!

      Like

  7. Paz says:

    Thank You Newton and Tim!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So basically I nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award, I am horrible at linking (obviously hahha) but if you go to my blog and look at the last post you’ll see I linked you and your blog

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Anthony Paul says:

    Heartiest congratulations to Tim and all you other blogsters out there who have made this site such a wonderful experience. I don’t believe that I exaggerate when I say that as moderator of this blog, Tim has consistently shown a wonderful spirit of gentleness and kindness toward each and every one who contributes to the conversation… Thank you, Tim… something that bears repeating though I’ve said it several times before… there is more of church here than in many Sunday gatherings I have attended.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Paz says:

    This is all so very well said and so very true about you Tim!
    Well done!!!
    God bless!

    Liked by 3 people

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  14. Can the created question the Creator?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chilavert, I do not question the creator but I question some people’s ideas about the creator. For example, I do not think God is angry with us–not now and not in the past.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Saying God is not angry with us is incorrect. God gets angry when we sin, backslide or go against His will which we are guilty of. God may not be angry with you per say but He is angry with those who pervert His commandments.
        God does get angry now or in the past. What you need say is that His mercy is available for us. He is a just God. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him but as for the wicked His judgment must surely come upon them.

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  15. Sure, we are seeing it quite differently. Will everybody inherit the kingdom of God? No. So where will the unjust go to? We always see God as so merciful, so compassionate, so forgiving. That’s true but we forget He is a consuming fire, we forget He will punish those whose is sealed with hot iron.
    The truth is that the unjust will be condemned.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chilavert, I think it likely that God will offer eternal life to everyone who ever lived at a time when they understand everything clearly. This might be after death. However, there may be some who refuse eternal life perhaps because they do not wish to be in God’s presence, and I don’t think God will override their free will and force them. I think they will probably cease to exist (since they don’t have eternal life).

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