What is more central to our religious experience than our relationship with God?
But some believers understand their relationships with God much differently than others do. Most of us believe God loves us and cares about us. We even talk about God’s unconditional love. And I think we do this because this is the way Jesus presents God to us; and it is also the way Jesus, himself, acts toward people in the Gospels.
Jesus loves us and God loves us. I know that almost all believers would say the same thing and even believe it in some way, but in reality many believe in an Angry, Violent God who is very demanding and vindictive toward us.
We don’t want to get on the bad side of this God!
What Kind of God is this Angry God?
We are talking about:
* A God who will punish people in eternal hell fire who do not measure up to his expectations
* A God who is consumed with wrath toward our sins, though he poured out that wrath on Jesus
* A God who has specified a host of specific rules for us to follow in order to please him; and
* A God who will afflict us with tribulation horrors if we mess up and miss the rapture
From this perspective, God is in control of the Universe, in control of our lives, and in control of our eternal destinies. There is no place for us to hide and nothing we can do to escape God’s power and wrath, and we are helpless and hopeless before God unless we are able to meet his expectations.
Attempting to relate to this God often involves a great deal of fear and apprehension. If I believed these things, I would have to cry out with the writer of Hebrews 10:
It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But I don’t believe these things about God—because of Jesus. In fact, I think the idea of Angry God is the #1 foundational harmful belief because so many other harmful beliefs are rooted in the fear of Angry God.
Why Would We Even Think that God is so Angry, Violent, and Vindictive?
I believe it begins simply by reading the Old Testament. Beginning with Genesis, we don’t read very far before we learn that God decides to kill practically everybody on earth in a huge flood because of his great disappointment with them. Is this not a frightening God?
It would be frightening if this story were historically true, but it isn’t. Instead it is a story written by the Israelites reflecting their limited understanding of who God is; and I think they got it wrong. To the Israelites, God was not only powerful but promised to punish them severely if they disobeyed him.
Deuteronomy 28 describes their punishment:
The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.
The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth. Your carcasses will be food for all the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away.
This is an Angry, Violent, Vindictive God.
Why Would We NOT Think that God is Angry, Violent, and Vindictive?
We can also ask why we should NOT accept this depiction of Angry God in the Old Testament as true and accurate. After all, God is whatever God is and not obligated to be what we want God to be. And, again, I think we find that answer in Jesus—God’s representative to us.
What we find when Jesus talks about God is that he describes him as ‘Father’. Now there can be angry, violent, vindictive fathers, but this is not what Jesus has in mind about God. In Matthew, Jesus introduces the ‘Father’ relationship in the Sermon on the Mount. His first clue into what the Father is like comes in chapter 5 when he tells us:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?...Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Here Jesus describes the Father’s attitude toward all people and calls upon us to be like our Father. This is no angry, violent, vindictive God. This is not a God who destroys people in floods. This is not a God who brings wasting disease, scorching heat and drought, and blight and mildew to plague people until they perish.
So someone in the Bible is mistaken about the character of God. Was it Old Testament writers who thought God was angry, violent, and vindictive? Or was it Jesus who tells us of a Father who loves both the righteous and unrighteous? (And remember that Jesus also patterned his entire life on loving others as God did.)
I don’t think Jesus is mistaken.
So let us embrace, without fear, the God who truly loves us—Loving, Caring, Healing God. And if we are able to do that, what happens with our other religious fears? We will talk about that next time.
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
How Some Misguided Christian Beliefs are Very Harmful
Belief in Angry God is Perhaps the Most Damaging, Misguided Christian Belief of All
If We Are Free to Approach God Without Fear, What Becomes of Our Other Religious Fears—Like Hell?
Hopeful Universalism and a Gentle Alternative
A Gentle Alternative to Punishment in Hell for Those Who Reject God’s Offer of Eternal Life—Conditional Immortality