Bad God/Good God: Making Sense of God’s Character

By Joy Overbeck

Recently I got into one of those heated online back-and-forth comment thickets on an article about Christianity. One guy was promoting the popular and preposterous notion that all religions are the same because they’re all centered on loving your neighbor. Have you noticed that the only people who believe all religions are the same don’t actually believe in any religion?

I pointed out that a religion that stones women to death and denies them basic rights such as education, or cuts off thieves’ hands, probably isn’t about loving. The unbeliever responded, “Christianity is not about ‘loving your neighbor’, either, if you include the Old Testament and its blood ‘n’ guts God . . . or the New, for that matter, with Jesus as the white-horse rider in the book of Revelation leading the armies of heaven on a Christian jihad. Some love of neighbor!”

That brings up some interesting questions. First, who is this guy, or any carbon-based life form, to set himself up as the moral judge of the Creator of the Universe? Strikes me as pretty ludicrous.

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Second, who is God really? What’s the first picture that comes to mind when you think of God: Is He the voyeur cop of the universe patrolling in the clouds, trying to catch you being naughty? Is He a wrathful Old Testament tyrant, hurling thunderbolts and tsunamis down to earth just for fun? Or is He the lover-boy Jesus of the New Testament, frankly too weak and mild-mannered to be godly enough to qualify as your idea of anything called the Almighty (except for the white horse jihad part)?

How do we Christians reconcile the God who’s been branded a murderer and a psycho by more erudite unbelievers than this one, with the sweet, loving Jesus (except for the white horse part) who is unwilling for even one of us to perish?

Actually, this “bipolar” characterization of the Christian God is a simplistic caricature. The Old Testament reveals a God who demonstrates tremendous love towards his humans, and in the New Testament, the mild-mannered Jesus had His angry moments too. No matter which form He takes, our God is also our Father and he obviously has a personality, a personality much like a parent. This is one of the many similarities that God and his human creations share, and it’s one of the many ways we are made in His image. Like any good father, he realizes the importance of discipline in developing good character in his children. When the ingrate kids rebel, there will be consequences. Without consequences, as many of today’s permissive parents have found, children can go off-track into dangerous risky behaviors…

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