Many Christians have an extremely small view of God. God is a person who is angry and only forgiving when you follow His impossible rules to the letter all the time. This god is Big Brother, constantly watching to see if you will screw up. He is jealous at people taking His titles of “reverend,” “father,” “pastor,” and other titles. He will punish people who worship with instrumental music, listen to gospel songs outside of worship, fail to read the Bible everyday, fail to attend church even when sick, and a host of other rules. Many Christians firmly believe everyone deserves an eternity (can we even really conceptualize the word?) in hell for our painfully short lives of “sin.”
Well, you can’t really call eternal damnation punishment. Punishment has a correctional aspect to it. If a person is damned to hell FOREVER, what chance do they have to correct their behavior?
This god is pitifully insecure and violent. He kills people outright for offering fire from the wrong place in worship (Leviticus 10:1-2). He drowns all life in a flood (according to literal interpretation – Genesis 7). He damns mankind to eternal punishment for sins committed in a mere 80 years of life (according to popular interpretations). Heck, according to millennial thinking God will even allow a hellish war on earth, famine, and other atrocities to occur before sealing up Satan for eternity.
This god is painfully small.
However, there is another God seen in the Bible. This God is at odds with the popular, vengefully human god that many fear. This is the God exemplified in Jesus. This God freely offers forgiveness and simply tells us to love Him by loving ourselves and each other (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:30-32, Luke 10: 27, 1 Corinthians 13). Jesus eats with prostitutes, cheats, adulterers, murderers, thieves, and other sinners. A careful student will note that he never judges these people. He instead extends hope, forgiveness, correction, and compassion. He gives them everything he possesses in an effort to help them correct and improve themselves.
Now, there are scenes in the gospels were he gets angry and frustrated. Jesus was human, after all. However, you don’t see him damning and killing like the popular idea of God.
The God Jesus exemplifies is a God that loves His creation. He wants it to find peace and love ( as trite or cliché as it may sound). Yes, we have to wonder why this all-powerful God simply doesn’t change the universe so suffering won’t exist anymore. Certainly you can point to the creation story in Genesis, but in the story God, being all-knowing, is guilty of entrapment. He did know, after all, that Eve and Adam will eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
Suffering is necessary for us to appreciate the good things and improve ourselves. I can see the logic behind a God creating a universe that includes suffering. Without suffering, life really couldn’t exist. Evolution wouldn’t occur. Stars wouldn’t explode and seed the universe with heavy elements. Planets wouldn’t form.
The God Jesus and Paul in his true epistles illustrate is far grander than the pathetic, violent and angry god many Christians today believe in. The God of Jesus is a compassionate parent who corrects people and gives endless opportunities to turn their lives toward him. This God is not divisive. He doesn’t select a single people or religion as being “true” or “right.” Rather this God tells us to love Him by loving others. He demands we extend compassion toward all our neighbors, the people we share life with. Notice in the Golden Rule, there is no clause about only loving people who are of the same religion, skin color, culture, or other division. Paul writes further about the qualities of love:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
-1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
People who are judgmental of others who differ in religion are not loving. Judgmental thinking is evil thinking. It blinds us from seeing that person as a neighbor and feeling compassion toward them. People who wear their small god on their sleeve deep down know it is a small shadow of the grand loving God found in Jesus’s teachings. Yet, they cling out of fear or to cover their own insecurity.
We need to remember that just because we believe something doesn’t mean it is true. Certainly, god may well be the violent, insecure child we see in passages of the Old Testament. However, as people’s ideas developed this god slowly morphed into the majestic, patient, kind and compassion God Jesus spoke of. The Bible is just a collection of people’s ideas about God. As people came into contact with others, their ideas of God changed. With today’s globalized world, there is no place for the small and petty god who is so quick with judgments and tantrums. The idea is the source of terrorism. It is just wrong.
The grand, majestic, loving and secure God doesn’t need people to defend Him or die for Him. He just needs us to love each other and live together with compassion.