What is God’s Personality Really Like?
If you were to ask what one of the most important moments in life might be, getting to meet God would probably be at the top of the list. Yet, if you were to talk about what that meeting might look like, it is disheartening the impression people seem to have of His nature.
In a study done regarding people’s conception of God, Dr. Graham Maxwell asked: “‘Would you be afraid to meet God?’” One particular response was, “‘Yes, terribly terrified!’ ‘Why so?’ ‘Because of all those terrifying stories in the Bible.’” Maxwell goes on to say, “I heard frequent references to the horrors of hell and the impossibility of trusting a God who would demand obedience under the threat of eternal torment.” All this led Dr. Maxwell to ponder the question, “How can we be friendly with someone who threatens to burn us to death if we disobey?” (1)
Common sense tells us that we should not be obligated to serve someone who threatens us with unending torture if we don’t “love them”. By comparison, Hitler would seem compassionate. At least Hitler’s victims could eventually die. This confused picture of God does not even harmonize with an atheist’s basic sense of justice.
Because of this, many people picture God as a demanding taskmaster, waiting to pounce on them at any given moment. As though God is anxiously waiting for us to make a mistake so He can prevent us from getting into heaven. But is this really what God is like? Is this really what the Scriptures teach?
In Hebrew, the word “Hell” has its root in the word, Sheol שְׁאוֹל, meaning, the grave, or, a pit. (2) Sheol is described as a place “without thought” or “feeling”, where “dust returns to dust”, and from whence the “Breathe of God returns to Himself”. (3) Sheol was the place where King David was laid to rest, as well as Abraham, Jacob, and all the other fathers and prophets of antiquity, “having died without receiving the promise of heaven.” (4)
Hell (Sheol), then, is where both good people and bad people go when they die, awaiting the “resurrection of the dead”. (3) Thus, the Scriptures use of the word ,”Hell”, is simply a metaphor for burying someone. The disturbed idea that, God sadistically tortures people in “Hell” forever, is really no more Biblical than Easter or Christmas; they are all Roman and Greek philosophies, not Hebrew.
“Fire”, on the other hand, in many cultures throughout history, has traditionally been seen as a positive force of renewal. The scriptures use both water and fire as a catharsis for the entire planet. The first cleansing of the earth via water, was at the time of the flood, bringing a literal new-birth of sorts to mankind. The second cleansing is described in the book of Revelation as a time when a destroyed planet, filled with self-destructive inhabitants, will be purified by fire. Like a smelting pot purifies gold from impurities, once the flame has completed its renewal, the flame will go out, and the gold will be revealed.
EVIL IS NOT EQUAL TO GOOD
Unlike the religions that teach the equality of good and evil, or that, “evil cannot be defeated”, the Scripture’s state that God will put a literal and permanent end to evil, through the cleansing power of fire; It is during this time when “death and Hell” will be metaphorically cast into the purifying flames of the “lake of fire”(5) By cleansing our devastated planet with fire, corruption will be ended, granting unending life to those who chose Love over selfishness. Families and loved ones separated by death will be reunited. And finally, justice will come to those who chose despotism and oppression as a way of life.
In addition, the scriptures tell us that Lucifer himself (the created angel-being who originally proposed selfishness as a way of life), his ideas, and his followers, will all be literally thrown into what is likely to be a sea of molten lava; like paper in a campfire, everything will be utterly consumed, leaving nothing behind. (6) In this sense, the eternal and irrevocable sentence of death (ceasing to exist) is an act of mercy and not sadism; Giving rest to the tortured existence of all those who chose to survive through greed, abuse, manipulation and violence.
The Scriptures call this act of extirpation, “the second death”. It is an unending rest in the arms of Sheol (the grave), where those who rejected selfless love, “sleep in the ground”, forever and ever. And when the corollary flame has cooled, with a grief shuttered sigh, God will recreate the world in all of its Edenic verdure.
Whether or not you agree with these concepts, this is what the Scriptures teach about the personality of God. According to Scripture, God is not a critical nit-picking overlord, but rather, it presents Him as a just Deity, who grants forgiveness, and will ultimately remove all the things we hate about this corrupt world, in order that love and justice may reign supreme.
I coined a term a few years back called, “projected self-contempt”. It means that we treat others poorly and judge them negatively because, we are dumping what we dislike about ourselves, upon them. Projection is a coping mechanism, a form of self-protection. It is a prison from which we lob projectiles when our wounded and frail identities seduce us into self-loathing.
Like a Turner Classic film, we re-screen unresolved wounds from the cluttered shelves of memory; our percieved-sense-of-powerlessness making us both victim and abuser, both judge and jury. As in the acclaimed album, “The Wall”, our sense of vulnerability is tantamount to terror, “Since, my friend, you have revealed your deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before your peers. Tear down the wall.”(7) In those searing moments of shame, we castigate those around us in an effort to say, “back off, I am unloveable and flawed, and I will fail if you put me on a stage”.
As such, mankind’s picture of God can often become a projection of our personal demons, a preconception, rather than anything the scriptures actually teach; God taking the blame for our personal resentments. But is God actually like the people that abandoned or abused us? Is God really like the people that failed us when we needed them the most? For that matter, is God even like a large majority of His own followers?
Just like a painting, where every picture has its own specific artist, with their own palette of color and subject, a persons life cannot be captured in a snapshot, there is a multiplicity of pieces that fit into what makes up an individuals personality. And it is the same for God.
To assume that God is like what we are shallowly presented, historically, in pop-culture, or by failed authority figures, is to project upon God an assumption of Character. It is to judge a book by its cover. And when we are emotionally invested because of the suffering in this world, we are more than happy to erase a seemingly impotent God, with one broad sweeping stroke.
INTENTION AND REALITY
But, consider the length of time that has passed in scriptural history. What began as well intentioned and sincere, as with all things good in this planet, rapidly became encumbered with self-interest. Like gathering a line of people, what you tell the first person is far from what the last person hears. And this is exactly what has happened with God: What was obvious and plainly stated, became shrouded in mystery; that which was compassionate and just, became encumbered with greed and control; what was once the hoped for end of evil, became sadistic, controlling, and a means to political ends.
But if you were to talk with God, to ask He, Himself, what He’s like, what would He tell you? If you had everyone in the history of the planet judging you, you would certainly want to speak for yourself. And that is exactly what God did, in both inspiring the Scriptures, and by coming Himself, to explain it with His own mouth, in the Messiah, the Christ.
WHO GOD REALLY IS
But even God speaking for Himself, is not enough for human beings. His own adherents, those who followed Him night and day for three years, hardly believed Him. Just as those of us today, the families, employees, and officials of the first century were desperate for deliverance from their problems. So when the “deliverer” arrived, the whole nation of Israel was ecstatic; they would finally have wealth and stability. As proud nationalists, they would finally be delivered from oppressive political control. The poor would have wealth, and the rich would have power.
Yet, on the self-same day that they would crown Jesus King, He sent them all away. To their dismay, His response was, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions, but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.”(8) Let’s be honest, a large part of the reason we don’t like God, the reason we paint Him as fiction, is because the truth that God offers is not freedom from responsibilities and trial, but rather the responsibility to love one another through the healing of selflessness.
God does eventually promise a resurrection for our dead, and a future world without the failings of our current planet. But that isn’t good enough, we see the suffering around us and want to alleviate it, now. We see the injustices and want them to pay, now. But in our anger, what we fail to see, is that God wants the same thing.
It is the Father, not just Jesus, that loves His enemies. It was the Father that allowed the punishment of selfishness to fall upon His boy. It is the Father that calls His own followers to alleviate the suffering and injustice of the poor and needy, now, not in some mystical future. It is selfish humans that turn the Father’s simple command to love each other into quarrels about ideology, completely side-stepping His call for us to care for one another.
Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (9) So if you really want to blame God, then you’ll have to blame Jesus too, because they are the same. They would both hang out with prostitutes as much as rebuke the sickening arrogance of the religious. “I and My Father are One.” (10)
Understandably, we don’t want suffering to be a part of normal life. It’s hard living in a world of injustice and selfish exploitation. Suffering makes it difficult for us to not want to use God as though He were some kind of vending machine. But, truth be told, the majority of suffering that goes on in this world is created by human beings, not by God.
Regrettably, the lions share of those rejecting God, will be ill informed, basing their opinion upon anger at parents, peers, abusers, false or politicized religions, and the media… but, not upon the scriptures themselves. We are not unlike those that stood at the foot of the cross, mocking selflessness, hiding being the comfort of self-justification; and God’s response to this brokenness remains the same: “forgive them, for they don’t realize what they are doing”. (11) The louder our screams, the more mistreated and terrified the child within. But, there is no need to be afraid, “A bruised reed He will not break, a smoldering wick He will not quench” (12)
The conception, that God is stern and brutal, is just simply a lie. The scriptures describe God’s work of judgment as a strange work, as the necessity of setting boundaries. Hear God personality in His own words: “‘Why will you die? I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’; ‘People are bent on turning from Me. But how can I give you up? How can I surrender you? My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassion is kindled.’ ‘For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”(13)
God intimately cares about you. He longs to be, “‘the God of all families'”, who has, “‘loved you with an everlasting love'”, and who, “‘draws you with unfailing kindness'”, because, “‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.'” (14) Not only does God care about us, but He is loves source, He is love itself, not as a verb, but as a noun: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Those who do not love do not know God, for God is love.” (15)
In our longing to make sense out of the silence of God, we must open ourselves to more than our wounds demand, more than human failings, and more than religions paltry efforts at emulation. In his personal struggle to understand God’s personality, Dr. Maxwell concluded:
“If we are lost in the end, it will not be because God has become tired of us, or angry with us. But that we have stayed away from Him so long, with such unwillingness to listen to our gracious God, that there is no remedy, and there is no healing for our condition. Thus, ‘the wrath of God’, is simply His turning away, in loving disappointment, from those that do not want Him anyway, thereby leaving them to the inevitable consequences of their own choices.” (16)
Essentially, even if you are an all powerful God, you cannot force a utopian society, for love is only real when it is chosen.
1. Servants or Friends, pg. 2-4
3. Ecclesiastes 12:7.; Psalms 115:17.; Hosea 13:14; Psalm 49:15; For a detailed study on these concepts see: http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/endtimeissues/eti_18.pdf
4. Heb 11:13
5. Rev 20:14
6. Rev. 20:10; Mal. 4:1-3
7. The Trial, Pink Floyd, The Wall, 1979
8. John 6:26 TMB
9. John 14:9
10: John 10:30
11. Luke 23:34
12. Matthew 12:20
13. Ezekiel 18:31-32; Hosea 11:7-8; Jeremiah 29:11
14. Jeremiah 31:1,3; Jeremiah 1:5
15. 1 John 4:7-8
16. University Lecture Series, Dr. Graham Maxwell.