“God Must Hate Me:” Bad Theology Can Kill

“God Must Hate Me:” Bad Theology Can Kill July 24, 2023

Bad theology teaches us that God is in the business of smiting us whenever God may be, for whatever reason, displeased with us.

bad theology nearly killed an older woman
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock free photos.

[Note: names have been changed to protect privacy.]

We were heading out for our late afternoon Tuesday socializing-with-friends time. Just over a block from our house, an elderly neighbor waved us down and asked us to help get her dog, currently running loose.

We immediately agreed to help. My husband was somewhat acquainted with the woman, whom we will call “Jane,” I had only met her once, quite briefly. However, we both know one of her sons.

My husband and Jane eventually corralled the dog and got him on his leash. Then Jane sat down on a small chair on her front porch and indicated she didn’t want to go inside.

Did I mention that it was 109 degrees the day this happened?

My husband sat with Jane, who is somewhere around 90 years of age, for a bit and then came back to the car. As he pulled away, he tried to phone Spot at his office but couldn’t reach him.

We phoned the organizer of the group we were about to join and told him what was happening. He took over trying to reach some people.

We had left the neighborhood by and then, and suddenly, I told my husband to turn back—we had to make sure she had gone in the house.

When we got back, she was not on the porch. I was relieved. However, my husband saw her on a bench in a nearby park, the dog with her. We sat and watched for a while. She got up and was clearly looking for something on the ground.

At that point, knowing she used a cane, I feared she might fall on the uneven ground. Suspecting she’d feel less threatened with a woman approaching her as she didn’t remember my husband, I got out and headed up toward her.

Taking the time to listen was eye-opening

Putting on my long-retired pastoral hat, I gently offered to help. A pendant from a necklace had fallen off, so we both spent a bit of time looking for it with no results. I sat with her and, again living from my experience as a pastor, listened quietly as she talked.

Within a few moments, it became clear that she was deep into a dementia journey. And much of her repetitive conversation involved how much God must hate her to let her suffer the way she believes she is. Over and over again, “God must hate me.”

Thankfully, we sat in the shade of nearby trees, but I was increasingly aware of the oppressive heat.

After a bit, I pantomimed to my husband to drive home and bring us both bottles of water. He did and was back shortly with a couple of cold ones. He said that her son had been reached and would head over as soon as possible.

So Jane and I kept talking. Finally, I found the pendant and asked her to tell me the story of the jewelry. She did, constantly interspersing her memories with her sadness about how much God must hate her because of her present suffering.

The sun encroached on our bench, Fortunately, there was another bench in deeper shade. Jane agreed to move there with me.

All along, she repeated the same theme of God’s hatred for her over and over and over again. At that point, I realized the dog was thirsty, and sent my husband back for a bowl and more water.

The heat continued to grow, and my concern for her health grew with it. Several times, I offered to walk her home, and she consistently refused. She needed to suffer, perhaps to death, because she was so sure that God hated her.

Fortunately, she was willing to get into our car while we waited. However, she kept asking my husband to turn off the car to save gas, and he just laughed and said he could afford it. He was also hearing the same repetitive stories that I had heard, including her insistence that God must hate her.

When her son arrived, we transferred the dog and Jane to his car. We headed home, as the time for our afternoon social was almost done.

We don’t regret in the least having stopped to help her. We are also appalled at what might have happened in this awful heat had we not been there AND knew the family and how to contact them.

Knowing our neighbors and the agony of bad theology

And, for me, this brings up two deeply troubling issues.

One, how many of us know our neighbors well enough to be of help in a situation like this? None of our neighbors know the names or phone numbers of our children, nor, in nearly every other case besides this one, do we carry that knowledge about anyone around us. This lack of connection hurts us all.

Two: the agony her bad theology now brings her.  Somewhere, deeply implanted in this sweet woman’s brain, is the idea that God causes people to suffer when God is angry with them.

This is hardly the first time I’ve heard people speak like this, and most of them are hardly deep into dementia when these words or similar thoughts emerge.

Is that what God is about? Smiting us whenever the urge hits? I will never forget the time when I first began my deep dive into really studying theology. A woman doing this in my Evangelical world was, to put it mildly, shocking and, to many, disturbing.

One of my sons became extremely ill during this time. A church “friend” told me that the people in my church were saying that God was smiting me for daring to study the Scriptures for myself instead of trusting the all-male/all-Caucasian authorities to tell me what they meant.

Seriously? God made one of my beloved sons very ill to punish me for daring to try to understand the Bible better?

Again, what kind of theology drives such comments? It’s very simple: BAD THEOLOGY. Frankly, if that is what God is about, “heaven” is going to be pure hell.

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