Freedom from a Punishing God

When you’re a Christian preacher sometimes you get a real earful concerning the nature of the Christian God. Things like this, “I despise the Christian God with his arbitrary judgments. This God who makes people feel ashamed of who they are and doles out punishments to the guilty. Guilty of what, being human? I want nothing to do with the Christian God. All he does is rip families apart, cause hatred, condone prejudice, send us to war, and let unspeakable acts of violence be perpetrated on the guiltless.”

I’m not making fun; I have suffered much at the hands of this image of god. As a young man, unable to live up to this god’s idea of “good,” I slid into a dangerous depression. I get how damaging this un-evolved and misguided image of god can be.

There are a lot of people out there who, having been brought up in a predominantly Christian culture, react negatively to Christianity for just this reason. I grew up in a predominantly Christian culture. I assume that there are people who have grown up in other areas of the world where different religious traditions have held sway, who react against other un-evolved and misguided images of god.

Once a person has experienced this destructive, controlling side of my religious tradition, (or any tradition for that matter), I think they are left with some choices. Depending on how damaging the past has been, where they are now, and so forth. Sometimes, maybe even often, I think it is important for a person to make peace with the tradition of their past; it’s part of our spiritual growth and development – whether or not we stay in the tradition.

I’ve obviously come to an understanding of Christianity that is very different from this damaging and I believe, profoundly distorted image of god. I am writing this blog from that perspective. I hope it is helpful for those who are looking at Christianity afresh, whether or not they “become a Christian” again.

But I recognize that there are people for whom resolution simply is not possible. Like an abusive parent, it has hurt too much. To you let me say that I hope you get as far away from the Christian tradition as possible. There is nothing magic about it; nothing magic about any of the traditions really. I have every reason to expect that you can find another tradition that serves you well. Patheos.com is a great place to start. It is one of the reasons I write here.

Having come back to Christianity, and denying the punishing view of God, I have to then contend with the texts of Scripture that lead some people – not all – to believe in a judgmental, punishing god. What are they getting at? Do we toss them or use them? I hope to open that topic next week.

Grace and peace,

Sam

About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

  • http://www.assorted-ideas.com Marc

    Indeed, there is truly an effect on how a person is brought or his/her experiences with his/her view of God. I’m just starting to read your blog and I hope to read more. Thank you!


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