The moral character of the Christian God is the question which eventually led me away from Christianity. After a decade of non-belief, I still can’t help but look back to the time when I was such a staunch Christian and ponder the effects it had on me, and the effects it is still having on billions of people around the world. Recently, I’ve become more aware of abusive relationships and the tactics abusers use on their victims, and I thought I’d take a look at the behavior of the Christian God as described in the Bible and by Christians themselves, as well as general observations about the world, to see if God’s relationship with humanity, and especially with His believers, is a healthy one.
For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll be going through this article on WebMD for how to recognize if you’re in an abusive relationship. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this blog post will be quoting this WebMD article. Before we get into the list of things to watch out for, let’s first define what an abusive relationship is. According to WebMD:
An abusive relationship will involve one party using their power over the other party to prevent them from doing anything except what the abusive person wants.
So, if the Christian God is using His power to prevent people from doing anything except what He wants, the relationship is abusive. Anyone who has read much of the Bible may already be noticing a red flag here, as so much of it revolves around obedience to God. Still, let’s hold off our judgment for now. Let’s see how God stacks up against this list of warning signs that your partner might be abusive.
Warning Sign 1: Communication Monitoring
People who are abusive may try to monitor your communication with other people. They may ask to read your texts and emails, log into your devices without permission, or even install tracking software to keep tabs on your social life. They will frequently use this against you later.
Well, God is not off to a good start with this one. Being all-knowing, He of course can’t help but monitor our every thought and word, but that doesn’t necessarily make Him abusive, any more than someone who can’t help but overhear a conversation is necessarily abusive. What really matters here is what God does with that information. Does He punish or shame people for thinking or saying things He doesn’t like, or does he allow people their private thoughts and conversations? Well, unfortunately, He does. In Matthew, Jesus tells us that merely wanting to sin is a sin in itself:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.Matthew 5:21-22, ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.Matthew 5:27-28, ESV
But perhaps this is merely an isolated case? Perhaps Jesus (who Christians assure me was God incarnate) got this wrong? Well, we can find God defining thoughts as sinful elsewhere in the Bible. For example, the 10th Commandment (according to the Protestant count) reads:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”Exodus 20:17, ESV
This commandment comes directly from the voice of God speaking from atop Mt. Sinai, and is repeated elsewhere throughout the Bible.
Furthermore, in Deuteronomy, God warns His people not to think a certain way, and outlines the punishment for doing so:
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.Deuteronomy 8:17-19, ESV
There are many more verses like this, but I think these should be sufficient to establish a pattern of behavior. God wants to control even our most private thoughts. He monitors what people think and say, and punishes them for thinking things He does not like, and with especially severe punishments such as death and hellfire.
Warning Sign 2: Isolation
Returning to WebMD, we find our second sign of an abusive relationship:
Abusive partners also commonly isolate the people they abuse. The abusive person may spread lies about you, or they may try to convince you that your family and friends don’t actually like you. Either way, the goal is to cut off your support systems that could otherwise help you leave the relationship.
Unfortunately for believers, God checks off this box as well. The first example of this that springs to mind is this statement from Jesus:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:26-27, ESV
Christians often argue that this verse does not mean that followers of Christ must hate their families and themselves, but rather that they ought to put their relationship with God above all others. Even if this interpretation is correct, Jesus is clearly calling for people to forsake their families for him if a conflict between the two arises, as we can see only a few verses later:
“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”Luke 14:33, ESV
This is also not an isolated text, but a general principle throughout the Bible. For example, in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives this advice:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…2 Corinthians 6:14-16a, ESV
As a Christian, I was told that this verse was specifically referring to marrying unbelievers. This may be what the yoking metaphor is in reference to, or it may be that this is a more general admonition not to get too close to non-believers. Either way, God’s spokesperson says that God wants you to only have relationships with those of whom He approves.
In another epistle, this one attributed to James, we read this:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?James 4:4, ESV
Here, the author says that if you’re a friend of the world (that is, those outside of Christianity), then you are God’s enemy. It seems that God wants His believers isolated from anyone who might lead them away from Him.
Of course, this message is not isolated to the New Testament, either. After Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and found the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, he ground it to powder, threw it into the water, made the people drink it, and then did this:
…then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.”Exodus 32:26-29, ESV
Here we see that God approved of those Israelites who were willing to go so far as to kill their family members for Him, even granting them a special place in His worship. From this point on, only Levites could be priests in Israel.
Again, there are too many verses that fit this theme to include here, but this sampling should be enough to show a pattern of behavior.
I’d also like to point out that many Christians make a point of separating themselves from non-believers. Some go as far as shunning apostates, while others merely homeschool their kids or send them to Christian schools, and don’t get close to people outside the church. Christian alternative media is a thriving industry, providing Christians with a type of entertainment bubble that further isolates believers – especially children – from their secular peers. The effect of this is that many believers fear leaving Christianity, as it means they will become distanced from friends and family. When I left Christianity, I suddenly found my support network in tatters, and with very little experience of how to live outside the Christian bubble. I know that this is not the case for all Christians, but it is for many, and it seems to me that the Bible authors intended for this to happen. God wants His people isolated and dependent on Him and His other followers.
Warning Sign 3: Financial Control
In some abusive relationships, the abusive party will work to remove their partner’s control over their own finances. This is intended to make it harder for the abused person to leave the relationship. The abusive person may cut off your access to your accounts, hide information about your financial situation, or try to make you quit your job.
Again, it’s not hard to find examples of God doing this in the Bible. I will broaden this slightly to include God controlling things of value other than currency, especially those needed for survival, because money was not as important in the Ancient Near East as it is today, and the real goal of financial control is to cause dependence upon the abuser for material goods.
I’ll start with the obvious: God’s demand for tithes and offerings. Despite being able to create anything He wants whenever He wants, God demands that His followers donate at least 10% of their income to Him. As we see in the following verse, God even considers it robbery to not give him this share.
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”Malachi 3: 8-10, ESV
Here we see that not only does God demand a significant portion of His followers’ material goods, but He also threatens to withhold things that people need unless He receives what He considers His due. This should not be mistaken for a tax, though. Unlike a tax, this money was not to be used for the public good, but was instead an income for the priests and a means by which God’s place of worship could be maintained. Moreover, as I pointed out before, this money was not something God needed in order to provide His people with blessings of plenty. If a government could build and maintain roads, support a social safety net, defend its people, settle disputes, and perform all its other functions without collecting taxes or otherwise taking money from the citizens, then it would be fair to expect that government to provide those services free of charge. Thus, any analogies to taxation cannot stand in this case.
The author of Hebrews (who claims to be Paul, but probably was not) says that God claims ownership over everything.
Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by his power…Hebrews 2:10a, ESV
In Deuteronomy, Moses makes the same claim.
“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.”Deuteronomy 10: 14, ESV
Thus we see that God considers all your material goods to be His, and as we have seen, if we don’t use our wealth as He commands, he is willing to take it all away. This certainly fits the definition of financial control.
Of course, so far we have stuck mostly to the Old Testament. What does Jesus have to say about money?
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”Mark 10:17-25, ESV
Here we see that Jesus demands that his followers be willing to give up all their material possessions to follow him, and that failure to do so means being unable to enter the kingdom of God. This story is repeated in Matthew and Luke with minor variations.
These passages should be enough to establish that God demands total control over everything you own, and is willing to punish those who refuse to give Him what He wants. We’re halfway through the list, and already God looks like an abuser. I wonder if this trend will continue?
Warning Sign 4: Coercion
Another common tactic of abuse is to force you to do things you don’t want to do, whether through begging, threats, force, or emotional manipulation. This can include sexual activities, but it can also include any other behavior you do not want to do. Abusive people may also use coercion to keep you in the relationship if you try to leave.
I really don’t need to quote any additional passages to prove that God does this, do I? Thus far, I think the case for coercion is quite clear. Still, just to hammer the point home, I’ll add some more examples.
Leviticus 26 is an entire chapter in which God promises to reward obedience and punish disobedience. Notice the ratio of rewards to punishments. By my count, God devotes 11 verses to rewards, and 26 verses to punishments. That’s about twice as many threats as enticements.
Huge portions of the Bible are devoted to God giving very specific commands, as well as laying out the punishments for breaking those commands. These can be primarily found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Of course the most famous of these are the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20, but there are hundreds more. One of these commandments is to not work on the Sabbath day (a commandment I note very few Christians even attempt to keep), and here is the story of what happened to someone who disobeyed that commandment.
While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.Numbers 15:32-36, ESV
Threatening death to anyone who does something as trivial as picking up sticks on the wrong day of the week is about as coercive as one can get… Or is it?
Many Christians like to point to Jesus as reflecting the true character of God, and the general perception of him is that of a gentle, mild, accepting sort of fellow. However, as we’ve seen already, Jesus is certainly willing to coerce his followers, even to the point of trying to control their very thoughts. Let’s see what other coercive things Jesus has to say.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’Mark 9:42-48, ESV
Here we see that Jesus threatens some pretty horrible punishments on those who sin. Unlike the God of the Old Testament, Jesus does not threaten people with punishments in the here and now, but instead in the hereafter. Christians debate exactly what this passage means (none of them want to take the entire thing literally, for obvious reasons), but it seems clear that Jesus is warning of dire punishments, such that drowning and mutilation would be preferable.
Of course, Jesus does not merely use threats to coerce his followers. He also uses guilt. For example, in the gospel of John, he says,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”John 14:15, ESV
and a few verses later,
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”John 14:21, ESV
Here we see that God’s love is conditional upon obedience. Obedience means you love Jesus, and loving Jesus gets you love in return.
Of course, perhaps the most extreme example of coercion in the Bible might be the story of the Binding of Isaac. God comes to Abraham with a grim command:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”Genesis 22:1-2, ESV
Abraham then does what he’s told, keeping everything a secret from his family and servants until he’s alone with Isaac. When the altar has been built, Isaac asks where the lamb for the burnt offering is, and Abraham finally comes clean. Isaac then submits to being tied up and placed on the altar. Then this happens:
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”Genesis 22:10-12, ESV
Imagine the kind of trauma that must have caused for Abraham and Isaac! Here we again see that God demands such extreme obedience that His followers must be willing to kill their own children if He commands it. Even though Isaac was not actually sacrificed in the story, the fact remains that God wanted Abraham to be willing to do it, and blessed him for his obedience.
The case is clear. God is coercive.
Warning Sign 5: Emotional Manipulation
One of the most common types of abuse is emotional abuse. This can include:
- Insulting you
- Humiliating you in front of others
- Making you feel like you’re “crazy”
- Calling you names
- Making you feel guilty for normal activities
Healthy relationships involve both partners building each other up. Abusive relationships involve one party tearing the other down.
Again, this seems to describe God’s behavior perfectly. We’ve already seen examples of this, such as Jesus making people feel guilty for the normal activities of feeling lust and anger, but let’s take a look at some others, just to be thorough. We’ll start with the first Bible verse I was forced to memorize in kindergarten at my Christian school.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…Romans 3:23, ESV
I often hear Christians complaining about passages being taken out of context, but when you consider that this verse is not even a complete sentence, and that the Christians themselves decided to isolate this one from its context, you really have to wonder why they feel they have any right to complain. Let’s take a look at the context of this verse before going into an analysis.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:21-26, ESV
There, now we can see what the verse in question is talking about, and it is an excellent example of emotional manipulation. Here we see the dichotomy between God and humans perfectly outlined – God is righteous, and humans are sinners who have fallen short. Instead of punishing us for being sinners, God will show us mercy if we receive His gift of salvation through faith. This is the core of the Christian message, and at its heart is a permanent devaluing of humanity.
This point is even more clearly outlined a few chapters later:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.Romans 5:6-9, ESV
Here we see that God does indeed have wrath toward us, but He loved us so much that he had Jesus die in our place. All we have to do to avoid that wrath is accept the sacrifice of Jesus. Again, this is boilerplate Christianity, and it sounds exactly like the behavior of a domestic abuser. The abuser is angry with his partner, but he loves her (I use these pronouns only for the sake of simplicity, not to imply that abusers must be men and victims women.), but instead of hurting her, he hurts himself, then crows about how merciful he is. He didn’t deserve to be hurt, but he hurt himself in her place. Isn’t he so loving? Now, if the victim doesn’t want him to hurt her next time, she should accept his self-sacrifice and thank him and do whatever he says. Apparently the idea that God’s anger does not require that someone suffer and/or die is off the table.
I should point out that, at least in the Christian circles I grew up in and around, this guilt-tripping was often quite graphic and extreme. Films like The Passion of the Christ focus heavily on the suffering of Jesus in order to make the audience feel guilty. After all, it was their sins which made all this suffering necessary. This is a common theme of sermons and Bible studies.
So what happens if humans show any anger toward God? Does God admit He’s ever done wrong and ask for forgiveness? Let’s see how God responded to Job’s accusation that God had treated him unfairly. For context, Job was a righteous man who did everything God commanded and then some. To test his faithfulness, God allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth, kill his children, and afflict him with a horrible, painful disease. Job rightly points out that he has done nothing wrong, and claims that God is mistreating him. God’s response is to appear in a whirlwind and ask Job if he’s as smart or as powerful as God. He berates Job for even asking why these things have happened to him. Here’s a sample of the sorts of things God says:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Dress for action like a man;Job 40, 6-9, ESV
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
That’s it. God’s only answer to Job is pure intimidation. For chapter upon chapter, God belittles Job and boasts about Himself, until finally Job gives in and admits he was wrong. Only then does God leave him alone and bless him with more wealth and more children (as though they were replaceable).
Talk to Christian apologists and you’ll likely run into this attitude, too. “Who are you to question God? What right do you have to judge Him?” they will ask. This denial of human dignity and the assumption that God can do no wrong is at the core of the relationship between God and humanity.
And yet the emotional manipulation does not stop there. Returning to Romans, Paul has some more insults to sling at those of us who don’t think God’s as good as He says He is.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.Romans 1:18-25, ESV
Apparently, anyone who dares recognize God’s abusive nature has a foolish heart, and is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. According to the interpretation of many Christians, this passage refers not merely to those who criticize God, or who worship other gods, but also to atheists. They use this verse to say that those of us who don’t think there is a God really know deep down that God is real, and we’re only refusing to see that because we’re inherently bad people. Note that this is emotional manipulation not only of atheists, but of any believers who might start to have doubts. “Only unrighteous people who purposely blind themselves to the truth would ever doubt God’s character or existence, and you wouldn’t want to become one of those people, would you?”
I think we can safely say that God is emotionally manipulative, adding a fifth warning sign to our tally.
Warning Sign 6: Physical Violence
Finally, physical violence is the most well-known sign of an abusive relationship. If your partner ever hits you or hurts you in any way, your relationship is likely abusive.
Throughout this analysis, we’ve seen plenty of examples of God committing or commanding violence against humans, but I’d like to highlight a few more, just to drive the point home.
And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”Genesis 6:6-7, ESV
And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.Genesis 7:19-23, ESV
This is, of course, the most extreme example of God committing violence against humans, in which He wiped out the entire population of the earth except for 8 people. His justification for this was that the people were violent, and only thought about doing evil, but this is an obvious exaggeration. After all, there must have been many babies who had never had a chance to do evil things, and whose thoughts were nowhere near complex enough to even conceive of violence, but God killed them along with their parents. Even though we know for certain that this flood never happened, it still reflects upon the character of the Biblical God. If, as I believe, He is a fictional character, then this is indeed something He did within the fiction. If He is real, though, He has allowed this untrue story to persist in His holy book, so clearly He does not object to the way it portrays Him.
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.Leviticus 10:1-2
Here we see that God is willing to commit violence against those who worship Him the wrong way. This happened in public, too, and was meant to set an example of what happens to those who don’t do exactly as God says.
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.Numbers 21:4-6, ESV
Again, we see God committing violence against people, this time for complaining. Now he not only kills them, but does so via venomous snakes! Later in the story, God does provide a cure for the snake bites, but not until many people had already died.
Ah, but these are all examples from the Old Testament! What about the new? Well, there’s violence to be found there, too. Let’s start with Jesus himself.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.John 2:13-15, ESV
Here we see Jesus become so angry at people for conducting commerce within the temple that he attacked them with a whip and damaged their property. Apparently it’s okay for Jesus to get angry, but not anyone else?
Still, that’s not nearly as bad as some of the stuff from the Old Testament, right? Even if it is violence, Jesus did not kill anyone, right? Well, let’s look at one final example of violence in the New Testament, this time from after Jesus had ascended back into Heaven.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.Acts 5: 1-11, ESV
Here we see that even in the New Testament, God is still willing to kill people for relatively minor infractions – this time for lying.
Of course, no discussion of God’s violence would be complete without talking about Hell. There are many different theological views of Hell, which can be broadly divided into three categories: Eternal Conscious Torment, Annihilationism, and Universalism.
Eternal Conscious Torment is by far the most well-known and widely-believed view on Hell. In this version, God intends to subject the vast majority of humanity to torture for eternity. Some describe it as a lake of fire, others imagine ironic punishments suited to the sins of those who suffer. Still others describe it as an empty darkness where each person is alone and isolated from everything good. Whatever the conception, God never intends for this suffering to end, and will not forgive anyone once they have died. This is the most extreme violence imaginable. Many apologists will argue that people send themselves to this kind of Hell, and that Hell is merely the absence of the goodness which flows from God. They will argue that this is the logical consequence of rejecting God. However, this is obviously not the case. As I write this, I am rejecting the Biblical God, and I am not being tortured. If rejecting God had the logical consequence of suffering, I would be suffering right now. This is more of that emotional manipulation we talked about previously, blaming the victim for the misdeeds of the abuser.
Annihilationism is the view that the torment of Hell does not last forever, but instead, the souls of the damned are eventually destroyed. Some Annihilationists believe in a swift and painless destruction, while others believe that people are tortured to the end. This latter doctrine is what I was raised to believe, and the thought of my non-Christian friends burning to death before my eyes haunted me. Annihilationism is significantly better than Eternal Conscious Torment, however, as the suffering does end. That said, it is still an act of violence committed by God against His creatures.
Finally we come to Universalism, in which everyone eventually gets into Heaven. Some Universalists believe everyone goes to Heaven immediately, and reject the notion of Hell altogether. How they square this with the scriptures which clearly reference Hell I do not know. That said, this is the only Christian view of the afterlife which does not involve God committing violence, making it significantly less abusive. However, other Universalists believe that some people will experience suffering for a time before being allowed into Heaven. In this view, the goal of Hell is punishment and reform, similar to a prison sentence. The exact nature of the suffering varies based on the view being espoused, but I have to say that this is the least-objectionable view of Hell I can think of. Whether it is abusive or not really depends on what kind of suffering is inflicted. Experiencing the harm you did to others during your life, for example, could be valuable in teaching empathy, and might even be a just punishment. Still, I hesitate to give God a pass on this, because, as an omnipotent being He ought to be able to reform people without making them suffer at all.
Given the nature of God as displayed in the Bible, I would not be surprised in the least to discover that He planned for Hell to be Eternal Conscious Torment. I would not even be surprised to discover that He would throw His own followers into Hell, given how cruel and unjust He is throughout the book.
Regardless, there can be no doubt that the Biblical God is physically violent, even toward His own worshippers.
I think the case is clear. God perfectly fits the description of an abuser. He checks off the boxes for all six warning signs discussed in the WebMD. In each category, I could have listed many, many other scriptures to back up my case. There can be no doubt. The Biblical God is abusive, both to humanity at large and to those who have a personal relationship with Him.
Let’s take a look at the rest of the article to learn more about how we should handle this information.I’d like to draw your attention to this paragraph from early in the WebMD article :
While there are many common aspects of abusive relationships, every individual relationship will look slightly different. Furthermore, it’s often difficult for people in abusive relationships to realize that they are in one. One of the most common aspects of an abusive relationship is the abusive person insisting that what they do is normal and not harmful, making it hard for the victimized person to understand their situation.
This tells us something important, and that is that Christians themselves may not be able to recognize whether their relationship with God is abusive. My goal here is not to gaslight Christians or undermine their personal experiences, but rather to point out that it is possible to be abused without realizing that’s what is happening to you. If God is abusing Christians, they may not realize the harm He’s doing to them.
If you’re a Christian reading this, I commend you for getting this far, and I implore you to take a good hard look at your relationship with God. Is God respectful to you? Does He allow you to make your own decisions, or does He try to control you? Are you afraid of what God will do to you if you leave Him? Would you want to have a relationship with a human who acts the way God does?
If you think your relationship with God may be abusive, I’d like to share this advice from the WebMD article for what to do next.
If you are in an abusive relationship, your best course of action is to end it and leave your abusive partner. This can be scary, so it’s important to have a plan in place. Know where you’re going before you leave, and let your friends or family know that you are planning to leave your partner. You can also reach out to local resources for help if you need a place to go or help to get back on your feet.
I will add that if your friends and family are believers, it may not be a good idea to let them know you are planning to leave God, as this may increase the danger for you. Think carefully about who you tell, and have a plan in place for what to do if the believers in your life follow God’s example and become abusive toward you. If you need help, I suggest taking a look at Recovering From Religion. They have a number of resources available to help those dealing with religious trauma.
I hope that all of you reading this remain safe and stay vigilant. Don’t let an abusive relationship – religious or otherwise – dominate your life. Be strong and stand up for yourself. You deserve true love and respect!