As a child, I thought God was constantly angry with me. I laid in my bed at night, terrified that I wasn’t going to make it into heaven. While I had said the “sinners prayer” multiple times, I worried it wouldn’t stick, and I would be one of those false Christians that Jesus would turn away saying, “I never knew you.”
In Sunday school, we were warned that God was certainly a loving God, but that same God was ready to throw us into hell if we didn’t follow the rules. If we didn’t obey, got mad, made our parents unhappy, didn’t read our Bibles, and pray nightly, then we didn’t really love God. Therefore we didn’t mean it when we asked for forgiveness and would go to hell.
This understanding of the gospel stems from abusive patterns and not the redemptive love of God at all.
There are two ways to understand justice, and it’s relationship to God. The image of a wrathful and vengeful God is certainly in the Bible. Yet, the way we discuss it, especially in the Western Conservative church, does not accurately reflect a healthy or fully Biblical view of love.
I talk about how traditional Christianity sees love and its relationship to justice here. In this post, I will focus on the problems of intertwining God’s judgment and justice with wrath.
I’m not a therapist. However, in my own research, I have looked at abuse, grief, oppression, and trauma and can tell you– how we look at God and God’s love often reflects how we have experienced love in our own life. You can read about this theory —read the research here, but the main idea stems from attachment theory, which says how we are shown love as children informs how we will experience relationships and love as adults. Concerning God, those who have secure attachments as children will also see God as a secure and loving divinity; however, those with insecure attachments will view God’s love as chaotic and violent.
Learn about attachment theory here:
People with disordered attachment styles were brought up in environments where love was associated with anger. Their caregivers may have shown them large amounts of affection, but this was paired with emotionally and sometimes physically violent outbursts. When they made mistakes, the adults in their life would respond with anger instead of compassion and care. It could be said these were abusive relationships.
Many people who grow up with disordered attachments also see God as a chaotic caregiver. There is love, but there is also rage. Love for this God means begging for forgiveness for your weaknesses. In response, with odd benevolence, God decides not to bludgeon you to death but instead hold you in a kind and gentle embrace.
Those with disordered attachments are not doomed to a life of unhappy love. Insecure attachments can be addressed with therapy, self-reflection, and personal growth. Adults from chaotically loving environments are capable of forming healthy relationships.
Yet still, some do not seek to change their patterns and replicate violent love in their relationships. At times they look for relationships that mirror the abuse they grew up in. This could mean abusive partners and religious leaders who see God as an angry, punishing father, teach this God is biblical and mimic raging love with those they lead. Unfortunately, some of these leaders may have grown up with disordered attachments as well.
When understanding disordered attachment and God, an abusive pattern can be seen.
A person is raised with disordered attachment-> they seek disordered relationships as adults-> they see God’s love as violent -> they repeat violent patterns in their relationships.
In this cycle, a person can be told God is loving, and we should mirror that love, but so long as they see violence as a necessary component to love, they will never fully understand what is wrong with their actions or their abusive partner. Patriarchal theology paints this type of love onto God because it needs women to stay in abusive relationships. If they think they are being loved, then they won’t question if they are being abused.
This is not the love displayed in the gospels. If someone’s faith clings to the wrath and judgment of God, then you are looking at someone who is not preaching the gospel and is believing a lie.
If you are in a relationship where you are told there is love, but there is violence either physically or emotionally when you argue, that is not love.
If you are in a religion that says God loves you, but if you don’t stay in line, be prepared for wrath. That is not a God who loves. It’s abusive and oppressive theology.
I work with women coming out of oppressive theologies. Together we work towards a liberating spirituality using ideas rooted in traditional Christianity, feminist theology, and erotic spirituality. If you want to join us, let’s connect. Click here to schedule a time to talk. And don’t forget to join my newsletter to stay in the loop about new posts and programs.