is God a great big bully?

god is a bully cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Is God a Great Big Bully?” (cartoon drawn by David Hayward)

Here are some characteristics of a bully:

  1. Lacks empathy for others.
  2. Needs to control others.
  3. Gets angry quickly.
  4. Constantly reminds others of their weaknesses.
  5. Picks on those who don’t comply to his expectations.
  6. Makes others afraid through threats.
  7. Uses physical aggression to intimidate and control.
  8. Defies any who would share or correct his power.

We’ve probably all been bullied. It is a popular sport in school. When our kids encountered bullying, we would ask these questions:

  1. Does he scare you?
  2. Does he make you cry?
  3. Does he embarrass you?
  4. Does he make you feel weak?
  5. Does he make you do things you don’t want?
  6. Does he exclude you from groups?
  7. Does he make you feel there is no one to go to for help?
  8. Does he make your life miserable?

Unfortunately, many people believe God is like this. But it is cloaked in religious language that justifies it. So instead of God being called a bully, we say his judgements are indisputable, unchangeable and everlasting; he is better than us, high and lifted up, all powerful and holy; he is disappointed or sorrowful or angry about our sin; he constantly convicts us by the Holy Spirit; he sends us suffering in order to teach us, discipline us and inevitably bring us in line with his ways; and he threatens us with exclusion from him and his group now or forever in Hell unless we repent and straighten up.

Sounds biblical, doesn’t it? And if God is like this, no wonder some Christians and church leaders feel their bullying behavior is okay! And no wonder some Christians feel it’s okay to be bullied!

We should reexamine these doctrines in light of the contemporary and necessary studies of bullying. A God of love cannot be a bully.

If you need help getting free of a bullying god, Email Me. I also have an online community where you are free to talk about this stuff with others called The Lasting Supper.

If you are being bullied in school or know someone who is, please call Kids Help Phone.

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  • hooray! i absolutely love that you are taking this on, that you have the call and the courage to bring this ugliness into the light. thank you david!

  • important heidi. thanks 🙂

  • Adam

    Thanks for sharing that David.

    It’s so important to regognise it when it is happening isn’t it? I guess if are going through difficulty then it is easy to tell there is something wrong. It’s not so easy to tell something is wrong if we are the bullies and someone is telling us we are bullying. Pride can get in the way!

    Something I have only found out in recent years is that I am dyslexic. I was told at school that I was lazy, careless and needed to work harder if I was going to achieve my potential. My parents picked up on that, and because I was told this by parents and by teachers, I believed that about myself. When diagnosed dyslexic, the educational psychologist wrote that allowance needed to be made for dyslexia if I was going to achieve my full potential.

    So I was bullied by teachers, parents and what I did to myself in terms of the self-belief I had. I remember one of my brothers saying that with my other siblings he could have fun that there was always a “heaviness” around me. Trouble was this seemed normal to me – and I lived like that for over 4 decades!

    I can also see how having had that happen to myself, that I too have mistakenly attributed things to others and mistreated them.
    Being diagnosed dyslexic was for me as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. And for 3 weeks afterwards it was as if I was floating. Trouble was I wasn’t prepared emotionally for what happened next – raw anger at having experienced mistreatment for years and its taken quite a time to work through that anger.

    So, when I’ve received sermons of the like that you mention David, I feel like giving the preacher a slap. My mother taught me to stand up to bullies! Unfortunately in my experience, when it comes round to doing something about it, I have been accused of being “insensitive”, “guilty of the good old fashioned sin of pride” or “I feel like you are attacking me”. Well, maybe the pastors were right when they said such things, a wounded animal is dangerous. Yet, I rarely, if ever, when I have offered such challenge have known a leader to consider the merits of it and that maybe I had a valid point to make.

    I guess that is why I wept this week when I saw someone brave enough on here to say that she had as leader been abusive and her asking for forgiveness. It took humility for her to do that and courage to take the risk of facing others judgement and disliking in her doing so. That earnt my respect.

    If only thing had gone so well with other leaders. But then I guess part of this too has been the change in me in how I have come across as I heal form the wounds I have experienced and how I engage at such times. Less of a bull in a china shop, and addressing issues with greater dignity perhaps. I have to forgive the wrong that has been done to me – that is how I would like to be treated for the wrong I have done to others.

  • Wow. This is a very accurate and succinct description of the behaviors of authoritarian modes of religion and their notion of divinity.

    And lets get right to the point: regardless of whether divinity is real, people who embrace these kinds of behaviors are, in reality, using their god as a rhetorical/emotional weapon to bully others into social conformity. It’s about amassing power and wielding that power over others… and at their foundation, these behaviors constitute emotional abuse. When those behaviors spread outward from the church into the larger community and the government, it turns into physical and institutional abuse.

  • Life itself can be a bully.

    There are so many demands and setbacks and heartaches.

    But God is a comfort. He suffered too, in the person of Jesus. He knows what we are up against and is with us in the midst of it. And one day He will raise us from the dead…never to be bullied again.

  • Kris

    That makes me sad that God is used to control people with fear, but it is how the Christian Industrial Complex sells God and Jesus. And what is even sadder is that it works.

    Funny thing about bullies; I have learned that many of the kids in school who were bullies had very dysfunctional home lives and now that I have moved on, some of the people who picked on me at school want to connect with me now and want me to come to reunions and reminisce. LOL!

  • gimpi

    The old Adam said
    “But God is a comfort. He suffered too, in the person of Jesus. He knows what we are up against and is with us in the midst of it. And one day He will raise us from the dead…never to be bullied again.”

    Most bullies have been bullied. Does this make divine bullying OK? At what point do we expect of divinity the same basic level of decency we expect from other people? Why is it OK for God to be jealous, angry, capricious, petty and cruel? I don’t even like people like that, but I should worship those behaviors when they are claimed to be of God? I’m not sure I’d even want to have the God described in the Old Testament over to dinner, much less worship Him.

  • Kris

    Bullies also find their victim’s weak spot to terrorize them….not something I can a loving God doing.

  • Kris


  • Gary

    “At what point do we expect of divinity the same basic level of decency we expect from other people? Why is it OK for God to be jealous, angry, capricious, petty and cruel? I don’t even like people like that, but I should worship those behaviors when they are claimed to be of God? I’m not sure I’d even want to have the God described in the Old Testament over to dinner, much less worship Him.”

    Love this gimpi. I also would avoid the god of the old testament. I do not believe that THAT god exists. I am a believer BTW – But the God I believe in is defined as Love. I think Christianity has totally perverted His nature.

  • ~Sil in Corea

    One interesting thing about the Bible is that it shows how the Judeo-Christian world view changed over time. You can see God evolving from this local tribal deity who IS a bully to a parental figure and eventually to a Spirit of Love.

  • I just wrote an article that I think is related:

  • Vanessa Sheridan

    I’ve always been troubled by the apparent attitude and personality traits that God seems to display in scripture. For example, God demands that we humans dutifully worship him/her–not because it’s a natural thing for us to do (which it isn’t) or because we necessarily want to do it (which most of us don’t), but because God seemingly has a pathological, arrogant, egocentric need to be worshipped. Sounds rather self-centered to me. And then, as if that weren’t enough, God says we’re all sinners and that only blood sacrifice can atone for our sinful condition. Whoa–that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? I mean, killing someone because you don’t think they measure up to some arbitrary celestial standard is rather extreme, I would think. But that’s not the real kicker. After demanding death for being human and for behaving in ways that God apparently finds unacceptable, God sends Jesus to be killed and to serve as the sacrificial lamb for all of humankind. So, just what sort of character are we dealing with here? Let’s see: we’ve got a self-absorbed personality that requires all humans to worship him/her, just because he/she says so. Sounds more than a bit like a bully, doesn’t it? We’ve got a rigidly judgmental personality that demands death for any perceived human transgressions. And we’ve got a filicidal personality who purposely chooses to kill his/her own child, ostensibly as the propitiation for what human beings (whom God created in the first place, mind you) do as a result of being human. If you were a psychologist (or even a police officer) who was confronted with a personality like that, how would you assess that personality? Would you be inclined to think that the individual in question was a homicidal, self-centered sociopath, or maybe even a divine vampire of sorts (since blood is so central to all of this)? I know I would. And then people wonder why so much of the world rejects Christianity. Do you think it might have anything to do with the apparent irrationality and pathology of the central character in the Christian narrative?

  • Nice. I covered a similar topic last week in trying to pluck out the linchpin of Christian hate:

  • Adam

    DI Webster. Interesting article.

    You wrote with the theroies od atonement and penal substitution being conveyed it appears to you that the message comes across that “God is more angry than anything and apparently doesn’t like us at all”. And that you say: “I believe we need to focus more on the goodness of God and his kingdom, and on Christ and his love.”

    Morgan – you wrote

    “People hate each other for all kinds of sinful reasons. In my life, I’ve hated people unfairly before, usually out of some sort of envy or paranoid presumption … The linchpin of Christian hate, insofar as it has a theological root, is the assumption that God’s holiness amounts to a nihilistic, ruthlessly unsympathetic perfectionism. This assumption is largely derived from a distorted inheritance of the medieval satisfaction atonement theory of Anselm of Canterbury and a ubiquitous misinterpretation of Romans 3.”

    And you describe such hate as the hate of the pharisees that killed Jesus – along with i assume the hate of the seccular authorities that had the power to kill Jesus.

    Whant i am hearing form both of you is of it being a mistaken assumption of God attribute him as not liking humanity and being ruthless, unsypathetic and perfectioniistic. Reminds me of what Jesus said about false teachers and being aware of them and their deception., including making out God to be a bully.