Is God Angry? Is God vengeful, hate filled, disgusted? When I was in college there was a older man who spent most days on campus standing beneath an enormous sign that read: God hates… and all the things this person thought God hated. It was a very long list.
There are lots of so called pastors out there who will quote a whole lot of Bible verses (mostly out of context) to tell you how much God hates whatever it is they don’t like. I am not one of them.
No; God is not angry (at least not the way you’ve been taught). God is not hateful. Sound like good news? Keep reading.
Is God Angry? Is It My Fault?
A whole lot of what passes for theology (thoughts about God) in the modern world is abusive. It isn’t uncommon to hear a religious leader say that God didn’t want to send that hurricane to destroy and kill innocent people but gay people made him. Or maybe you sit through a sermon where you hear all about how much God hates when you do X, Y, or Z. That if you’d just behave properly God would give you good things, but because you keep screwing up God has to punish you. It’s your fault.
If a boyfriend, spouse, or parent said those things we would call it abuse. So let’s get really clear: if I hurt you, and I put the blame for that hurt on you that is manipulation and abuse. I have abdicated my responsibility for my own actions. I have made you, the victim, responsible for the being hurt!
It happens all the time in abusive relationships. Dinner not ready at the right moment? Clearly that beating was your fault. Didn’t smile, argued, or went out with friends, the list of things that can trigger abuse is infinite and makes no sense at all. What is common is the abdication of responsibility by the abuser.
Why This Matters
Here’s why this matters: what sort of god is forced to do something by the actions of a finite little person? A pretty small, weak, crappy god, that’s who. We are slowly becoming aware that blaming the abused for their abuse is wrong. But it is taking us quite a bit more time to figure that out for our relationship with God.
Can you force God to do something God does not want to do? I don’t think so. At least not the God I worship. If God is so small, so easily manipulated that we human beings can force God’s hand with our actions then we’re in a lot of trouble. Any God that small won’t be much help at all.
I’m just one person, but I have a Masters degree in this stuff (M.Div 2011 from the Seminary of the Southwest). And here’s what a lifetime of study, and reading of more theology texts than I can fit in my office tells me: the popular idea of god in contemporary culture is nothing more than our worst inclinations given form.
There is a far bigger, far more powerful God waiting for us when we get past that idea. The God who in Genesis looks at everything God made and called it good. The God who the book of Wisdom says “hates nothing that [God] has made.” I could cherry pick many more verses but I’m not much for that sort of “proof texting.” I’d rather do real theology, the sort that compares the experiences of our ancestors recorded in scripture with our own experiences.
Why Is Religion So Angry
Of course the real question is: if God isn’t angry, why is it such a common idea? The answer I’m afraid is, again, people. People are not neutral, we want things. We want security, and certainty, and a world that makes sense. And a God who is angry about the same things we are angry about gives us that security. If we are certain that we and God hate the same things we can be sure of our moral standing. We can be clear that we are in the right and others are wrong.
It is a supremely human tendency. It is in no way restricted to religious organizations. Take a quick look at political groups and you’ll see the same behavior. Ever tried to adopt a dog from a rescue? You’ll find out very quickly that they have a set belief of what makes a good dog owner and no deviation is allowed.
Our world is changing faster now than at any other time in history (with the possible exception of the Industrial Revolution). Change creates deep anxiety. The world we knew and understood is swept away almost daily by dizzying new possibilities. Everything is shifting sand, it seems like everything is up in the air.
No wonder we cling to a rigid set of religious principles to give us some illusion of control and stability. But it is of course an illusion, which makes us more angry and more anxious, and causes people to hold on even tighter. The God associated with all of that also grows more rigid, more angry, and more tied to the past.
God who weeps
If you ask why God is angry, or what God hates you’ll get a long list of search results about how much God hates evil. But what I have noticed is that every one of those sites defines evil in their own very narrow terms.
I started my religious work as a chaplain just over ten years ago. Most people have never even heard of a chaplain until they find themselves in the hospital emergency room, or the surgical recovery ward. I met people at their lowest and often most desperate. And what became clear to me over and over again was how present God was in those moments. Not as judge, not because God was angry or vindictive.
No, the Holy presence who kept showing up was one of immense love and compassion. The God I met in the emergency room was a God who wept.
We are so used to the idea of an angry punishing God that I frequently had people ask me: what did I do to deserve this?
An Invitation To Meet God (Again)
My response was always: nothing. You are not being punished. God is not angry. God loves you, and God is with you in the midst of this.
What if we set aside the worst of our own nature (our short tempers, and rush to judgement) and considered instead a God who wasn’t angry all the time. After all, if you are Christian you believe that God literally put on human flesh to experience our lives and suffering first hand. God walked a mile in our shoes so to speak.
Did you know that ancient Christians didn’t in fact think that God had demanded Jesus’ death as some sort of blood sacrifice? God’s work was in Jesus’ ministry of healing, and in raising Jesus from the dead after we humans had done our very worst. This God that people encountered in Jesus was one of compassion for the poor, the sick, the outcast.
That God was one who could overcome the worst, most murderous instincts of humankind, could literally bring life out of death.
(Curious, want to read more? Try this article, which is my adapted sermon on the parable of the pearl of great price.)
Do Not Be Afraid
The single most spoken phrase in Jewish and Christian scripture is: do not be afraid. Messengers from God use it over and over again. We human beings are prone to fear. We fear what we do not understand, and our fear leads us to anger and lashing out. We have built God in our own image. A God so afraid of our failings that God lashes out in anger.
Against that human tendency come messengers from God saying over and over again: do not be afraid.
Try an experiment. Reread your scriptures but instead of looking for an angry judgmental God who is out for your blood look for compassion, love, and tenderness. You will find them. In fact when you go looking you find them in abundance. Make this your practice for the next week, or month. Read looking for compassion, for messengers urging the people of God to not be afraid.
What does it change in you to seek a God of forgiveness, compassion, and love instead of a God of judgement and anger?
Intrigued, but challenged? Read more about how to go about questioning religious teachings and maturing in your faith. Or try this one on how your faith should grow and mature with you.