The God of Personality Disorders

July 28, 2010

Some people think God might have a slight mental disorder.  Maybe a touch of dual personalities…maybe.

I was having a very deep and intellectual conversation with a good friend recently, which does tend to happen when you are with me, and we are playing Mario Kart, and I am winning, which is always.  Hey, being better than my friends at things is just my muse.  That’s why I don’t play basketball with my friends.  I don’t feel like bestowing knowledge and wisdom on them after getting whipped at “horse.”

Anyway, the question at hand was why God seems to have a massive personality disorder.  Why does he seem like an angry, abusive, possibly-intoxicated-on-human-blood God in the Old Testament, and like a Care Bear in the New Testament.  This is a question that a lot of people seem to struggle with, and one that I’ve pondered over a lot, but until that night, I don’t think I had come up with any good answers.

However, since I was beating him particularly badly at Mario Kart, the answers I came up with were particularly good.  That’s just how God works with me.  I think there’s a verse about that…“Yea, when thee thrashes thy friend with green shells and banana peels, knowest that I am pleased with thee.”

Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

Four Reasons God May Not Be Schitzophrenic

The Old Testament is the “Highlights”

When we read the Old Testament, we can flip from one chapter to the next, and it seems God is always going Incredible Hulk everywhere, smiting this guy, or calling down plagues on that king, or sending the Jews to kill those other dudes.  (Though we tend to overlook all time times God actually send other people to smite the Jews.  Somehow, killing Jews doesn’t make God a bad guy.)  Does God ever catch his breath in between all that carnage?

We can read through the Old Testament really fast, but we forget that the Old Testament is, like, really really long.  But think about all the time it covers.  That’s a few thousand years.  A few thousand!  The Bible crams a few thousand years of history into a stack of pages just an inch and a half thick.  That means there’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t exciting enough to include.  We aren’t getting the “director’s cut” of history, we’re getting the highlights.

That means that there are long periods of time where God is catching his breath from all the bloodshed.  There are long periods of time when God is not doing anything violent.  When we remember that we just spent ten minutes covering a few centuries of time, it makes God seem much more reasonable, with only a few bouts of violence here and there.  Besides that, there’s a ton of lovey-dovey talk in the Old Testament too.  Enough love stuff to make you sick to your stomach, really.  Bottom line, Old Testament God is a lot less angry, and a lot more “New Testament-y niceness” than we assume.

People in the Old Testament Were No Good Jerks

I know we want to give all those people the Israelites killed the benefit of the doubt.  We don’t like the idea of war.  We know killing is wrong.  And I’m not saying this is a completely satisfactory answer.  But it’s an answer anyway.  Why don’t we think there was a good reason God wanted some of those people wiped out?  It’s pretty clear that ancient people did nasty things.  They had sex with relatives.  They put babies on spikes.  The reason God had to tell the Israelites not to do all that nasty crap was because they were used to doing all that nasty crap, or at least watching their neighbors do it, and being tempted to join in. 

Like it or not, no one’s innocent.

The New Testament is Really Short

How much time does the New Testament cover?  Less than a hundred years.  That doesn’t give God too much time to smite too many people.  Jesus was kind of in the spotlight.  But I’d say he did his fair share of smiting and table-turning.  Sure, maybe he never went nuts on someone in “biblical” proportions, but I think Jesus carried the same sense of righteous indignation that God has always shown.

But with the New Testament being so short, that leaves the last two-thousand years for God to go Old Testament on our butts with no one writing it down.  That’s a lot of wars.  I think the twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history.  Wow.  That’s a lot of war.  I’m not saying I agree with Pat Robertson when he says God sent an earthquake to Haiti to judge them.  But there’s been a lot of carnage since Jesus left the earth, and people still blame God for it.  If God was really all angry in the Old Testament, maybe He hasn’t really changed as much as we’d like to think.

Which brings me to the final point.

Is God Responsible for it All?

First of all, there’s a ton of stuff in the Old Testament that God never told people to do.  People go on and on, page after page, and God’s just sitting there saying, “What on earth are you idiots doing?”  That’s kind of the whole gist of the Bible, people not doing what God wants.

Now, this is going to be one of the rare points that I make that I don’t totally agree with myself.  I’m opening up Pandora’s box by bringing this up.  But there’s been a lot of wars waged in God’s name since Jesus’ time.  The Crusades come to mind.  The church was convinced (on some level) that it was fighting a holy war, and God was on their side.  These days, Christians would beg to differ.  God never told the Pope to reconquer the Holy Land.  (Or did He?…)

Is it possible, just possible, that the people of the Old Testament thought (or hoped) God was telling them to go kill these or those people, when God really said no such thing?  I know, if the people in the Old Testament weren’t clear about what God was saying when they wrote it all down, it creates more problems than I want to think about.  But it’s something to think about.

Is this a problem for you?  Does God seem like He has a personality disorder?  How do you deal with it?

21 responses to The God of Personality Disorders

  1. Hi Matt. Wow, this is sermon I would only preach if noone turned up to church, though I might just start a conversation in a home group with some carefully selected people. I think you have some good points here, particularly about the timescales covered by OT and NT. Also, those who think that the “New Testament God” is all Care Bear have obviously never read Acts all the way through: what about the story of Ananias and Sapphira, for example; or Elymas?

  2. Matt, I think you streamlined some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.

    The most interesting is that maybe people back then thought they were supposed to kill others in the name of God as well. I never thought about that before. Now I’ll have to go back and start reading some things. Because let’s face it, how many times do we really want something and if God doesn’t stop us, we say, “Oh, it must be God’s will?”

    Shameless plug, but here’s a blog I wrote on the perceived differences between the OT God and the NT God.

    Honestly, one of the ten commandments is not to murder. But why would God tell someone to murder someone else in the name of war? And if Jesus is God, I don’t see Jesus getting all mean and nasty to those Romans who beat the snot out of him. A lot of questions. Thanks.

  3. The New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old Testament. The Mosaic Law as it judges man and provides the ultimate sacrifice is completed in Jesus. The wars against the non-Jews are a symbol of those living in an unredeemed world and the one to come (hell). The wars where Israel gets nearly wiped out are a symbol of the need for a Savior. We are supposed to see the damage sin causes by sleeping with relatives, killing our brothers and being greedy task masters.

    I see the OT as a mirror of the NT. IE: At the Tower of Babel (Gen 10 and 11) God confused the languages of a self-centered and prideful people. In Acts 2 God provides the early church with the tongues of those in the city. A restoration of the previous.

    The more we understand Judaism, the more we will see the love of God poured out on Israel and in some cases the Gentiles too.

    So, does God allow it? Yes. Did he create sin? No. Have you gotten a wind-up car in your kid’s Happy Meal at McDonald’s? You back them up, and off they go sometimes in a straight line, and other times smashing into things along the way. It’s the same with us. The car can run in a track – God’s track, or smash around in the dining room. But for the car that believes in Jesus, there is an eternal reward – with or without the track.

    Excellent post. I know a number of folks that think that God is evil because of the stupidity of man, and the fact that gravity makes the sidewalk harder.

  4. In regards to the last point, I disagree that they were imagining God’s voice. In Acts 7, Stephen recounts Israel’s history and says this in verse 45:

    “Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David”

    I’m sure that’s not enough to settle the issue, but I do find it interesting that a man who was martyred, who didn’t raise a finger against his enemies, perceived the conquest of Canaan to be the result of God driving out those nations. Thoughts?

    And thanks for writing this post. This is one of those biblical issues that I really struggle with and wish I could just ignore.

    • I’m glad you disagree, as I don’t like that explanation either! Thanks for bringing up Stephen. Hadn’t thought of that old boy.

      • I’m glad you brought that argument up, though, because I do enjoy thinking about this kind of thing.

        Something that’s encouraged me regarding this topic is that God was willing to save those Canaanites who turned to Him. Rahab exercised faith by helping the spies, having come to believe in their God. She and her family were spared when the Israelites took the city.

        The amount of violence in the Canaan conquest still disturbs me, but I’m comforted to know that God still was willing to grant mercy.

  5. One read through Psalms should show that God has always been the loving God of the NT. great thoughts!

  6. I’ve been reading in Isaiah and Jeremiah lately, and the overwhelming impression I get is that God doesn’t WANT to wipe out anybody. He’s begging them to return to Him, so He can lavish His love on them. Likewise in Jonah, where He sends a very stubborn prophet to save a pagan city.

    I believe that God DID tell the Israelites to wipe out the idolatrous nations surrounding them. Look at the trouble Saul got into when he didn’t obey, and that was only the animals. In the same way, we are never to compromise with sin, which is much more serious than we would like to believe.

    Finally, I’d like to gently point out that schizophrenic doesn’t have a “t” in it…

  7. I’ve asked this question many times also.

    And I’ve wondered if maybe the way God interacts with humanity has changed over the centuries. No, I’m not saying God changes (that just gets everyone too upset, though Moses and Abraham both changed God’s mind one time) but the way he connects with us might change.

    Our relationship with God is often compared to a parent/child relationship – and the way I interact with my sons changes over the years. As young adults now, they would be annoyed if I still spoke baby language to them, bought them matchbox cars for Christmas or tried to give them a timeout.

    So couldn’t God’s interaction with humans change and when Jesus came, he began ruling with love instead of with killing and wars?
    I know that that doesn’t explain the story of Ananias and Sapphira – that story really confuses me. It doesn’t gel with many of Jesus’ teachings about love, no condemnation and multiple chances.

  8. Acts 10:42-43 is interesting in this discussion. At the end of one of his sermons Peter says the following about Jesus:

    “And ​he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify ​that he is the one appointed by God to be judge c​of the living and the dead. ​To him ​all the prophets bear witness that ​everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    It seems that here Peter is saying Jesus entrusted the apostles with the message of judgment and it was the prophets of old that spoke about forgiveness. There is a lot of judgment in the New Testament. There is also a lot of grace in the Old Testament; we just become really fixated on the war passages (which Israel only wins when God is with them goes before them, and fights for them).

  9. As I am reading the comments, I have to ask the question: When God says the wages of sin are death, and every sin eats away at this life; sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, why do we see that as unloving or inconsistant?

    We were created to be like God, love God, and be in constant fellowship with Him – and given a choice not to.

    The other perspective is one of death here on earth. God has given an opportunity to know and love Him. Satan brought death into the world by deception (his free will), and God is taking back the earth legally through the laws of Moses. His plan is for eternity – not for an easy life here. We have to blame Adam for losing eternal life for all of mankind. The good news is that He sent Jesus to fix the transgression.

    God only has one idea – obey Him. All the rest are ours; along with the consequences that go with them.

  10. WoW! One of my favorite subjects to ponder over.
    I have never understood why people think that the God of the Old Testament is mad. I read Genesis and see a God of 2nd chances; 3rd chances; 4th chances; etc. (starts w/ Adam & Eve; then Noah & fam; then Abraham & Sarah; then Jacob & Esau; then…) See what I mean? That’s only 40 pages in to the Bible!!! I could go on and on. Okay, I will! When I read Leviticus, God is constantly setting up feasts to celebrate. God loves a good party!!! (drunkedness not included) He even tells us to take a year off every 7 years. A year long vacation! Whoot!!!
    God is constantly coming to our defense when he is smiting people; usually our enemies. Like the Amalekites. Those are the people that attacked the Jews as they were leaving Egypt. The Amalekites attacked “those who were weary & worn out…all who were lagging behind” Let’s think about who that might be. Not the studly young men who were soldiers. I’m thinking they were in the front scouting out enemies. I’m thinking it was the old people; the mothers w/ young children and no husbands. The people w/ disabilies. That is who I’m thinking the Amalikites attacked. Yeah, I’d be okay w/ smiting the Amalikites.
    Okay, I’m fired up now! I’ll take a break long enought to tell you I adore my God of the Old Testament!!! My protecter; my party planner; my forgiving again and again God!
    I think the problem is that the Catholic Church, which dominated religion until the early 1900’s (that’s 1900 years of Catholismsmsms) only taught about an angry God, in order to keep people in line. So when the Lutherns rose up, they tried to undo the damage by only teaching about grace and mercy. And the rest of the religions saw how well that was received, so the theology of ‘Gentle Jesus of the New Testament’ took over. And pastors quit talking about the Old Testament. It became that “old school” Christianity. But here is the thing. The God of the Old Testament is the SAME God of the New Testament! GOD doesn’t change. He has changed his course of action(ish) w/ his people, But not his character. He still hates sin, even in the New Testament. He still loves us, just like the Old Testament. Maybe we’re the ones who changed. Look at the average household of the 1950’s; compare to the average household of the year 2010. Is there even an average any more?
    okay, really long, sorry. no I’m not. My God stands up for me all the time, felt like I needed to stand up for Him.

  11. I really used to struggle with it. I couldn’t reconcile the angry God of the OT and the loving, forgiving God of the NT. Then I read a story about Billy Graham struggling with the same thing in his early ministry. He says he became so overwhelmed one night studying Scripture, that he became convinced God was contridicting Himself. And Billy Graham was broken and devestated. He fell to his knees and cried saying “God I don’t understand”. He said God met him there on the floor and told him he wasn’t meant to understand…yet. He was meant to seek God’s face and heart though, and one day, he would begin to understand.

    That was a very liberating moment for me when I read that story. I did the same thing. I hit my knees in full-on sobs and told God I didn’t understand His ways, but I trusted them to be Truth. It was the day He gradually begin revealing Himself to me in new ways. I still don’t “get” all of it, but I put that on me, not on God. And He keeps revealing His character to me. It’s a unique and blessed place to be.

    • I appreciate this, Marni. I, too, have lived long enough to have gotten just a tiny glimpse of His character…..and He is amazing. When things happen and I can’t figure out what is going on, I rest in the fact that I know He is good, always. And He can be trusted, always.

  12. I am sure many people who read the heading and intro to this post would be offended at the language you use…even hinting that GOD may be SCHITZOFRENIC?!?! (I left the T in there for Leslie!!)

    But the fact of the matter is this is an issue most believers HAVE thought. Whether worded that way, or not. And I know form my experiences that non-believers DEFINITELY have asked this question.

    So, MY QUESTION IS THIS…It is good to come to this blog and discuss this issue with fellow God-chasers, but HOW DO WE RELATE AND RELAY THIS INFORMATION TO A LOST, DYING, DESPERATE WORLD? Is there a way to convey this info without having to pull out names, places, illustrations that unbelievers have never heard of?

    I hate when people ask me a question without offering possible solutions, but that is precisely what I am doing. This is a struggle for me to get this message across…


  13. Your last point is something I struggle with. It IS indeed Pandora’s box…I’ve only talked about the idea (that *maybe* God didn’t want all of that stuff to happen) to one other person. And he kind of looked at me like I was crazy. Because in some ways it does cause other problems, like the authority of scripture. Although, could it be possible that we are supposed to learn things from the times that the Israelites *might* have screwed up what God was saying to them? So the authority of the Bible can remain intact, but the point of the story might change a bit…

    These are just things that I struggle with theologically. I rarely talk about them because people tend to get very concerned and defensive. And then they tell me to pray about it. Which I do….The bottom line is I don’t have any real answers, other than I know scripture is God’s word. I also know that Joshua 5:13-15 makes a great point:

    13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

    14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord [d] have for his servant?”

    15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

  14. This is something I have found myself conversing about a good bit with people. It seems to be a top three reason why the non Christian’s I talk to have trouble accepting Jesus. Personally I think it may be a combination of all your reasons but the last one.

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