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God: A Deity of Steel and Velvet

Author : Tom Graneau

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What kind of distinguishing characteristics do you see when you think about God’s nature? Do you see him as a loving being that can’t do any harm to people despite the provocation? Do you see an image of brute force ready to condemn people to hell by their slightest transgression? Or do you perceive him to be a reasonable, tempered being who works patiently with the frailties of mankind?

Is it possible that God could be an emotional being like you and me? The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

The Bible portrays Jehovah not only as a multi-faceted being but also one with emotions like mankind. On one hand, he is Lord and God Almighty, suggesting a degree of might and power that surpasses anything known to man. On the other, he is a loving, compassionate being, which means that metaphorically speaking his personality is a combination of steel and velvet.

Therefore, people who perceive God strictly as a being who dispenses love and mercy but nothing else have been misinformed about his nature. This view is not only an unrealistic portrayal of his character but also a restrictive perception of his capacity.

God is an emotional being. Throughout biblical history, he demonstrated many sides of his personality, all of which are like ours. For example, as you consider the following brief emotional responses to certain conditions, notice how similar they are to yours and mine.

God’s propensity for anger

The display of anger is generally connected to an emotional outburst about what is perceived as a provocation. The immediate reaction is to retaliate against the perpetrator with some form of vengeance. People commonly get angry for various reasons and their reactions can be unpredictable, depending on the nature of the problem. Like human beings, God also gets angry, and when he does, the outcome can be consequential. People get hurt or die.

What could possibly drive God to a state of anger, or with whom could he possibly get angry? There were various occasions where he displayed bouts of anger during his interaction with Israel because of their constant rebellion. Often, he referred to them as a stiff-necked or stubborn people, and a few times he wanted to decimate the entire nation. Consider the tone of one of those expressions: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen these people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now, therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, and I will make of you a great nation’” (Exodus 32:9-10). This situation developed as the result of Israel’s desire to have an image as a representation of their god instead of the living God who brought them out of the land of Egypt. They had built a calf out of gold and began to worship it while Moses was away receiving the Ten Commandments.

That day, God withheld his wrath against Israel, not because the people changed their attitude, but because Moses prayed to God on their behalf (Exodus 32:11). Even so, three thousand men lost their lives in the aftermath of the incident (Exodus 32:28).

God’s predisposition to jealousy

From a human standpoint, jealousy is a bad thing. It’s commonly seen as a negative feeling that is associated with other moods like anger, resentment, and disgust toward another person or group. It is further believed that jealousy is usually connected with some form of insecurity, fear, or anxiety related to losing something valuable such as a good relationship.

While the emotion is prevalent among people, it’s not easy to accept the idea that God is subject to the same sensation, particularly if you’re accustomed to seeing him precisely as a good-natured character. Be that as it may, he emphatically revealed without reservation or apology that he is subject to the mood. We read the following from his own lips: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9; 6:15). This statement admits to a real personal conviction, but more so, it states a position about something extremely important. In this case, he was dealing with the issue of idolatry and was expressing an uncompromising posture on the matter. Both the desire to worship idols and the actual practice posed a real threat, not to his position as God, but to his relationship with the Israelites as a people. He had a specific goal for the nation, and it depended on their faithfulness to see it through to the end. Yet, their inclination to deviate from the course and pay reverence to idols remained a constant threat to the entire operation.

God was baffled by the people’s fervency to give reverence to man-made images, particularly after they had seen evidence of his miraculous demonstrations in their lives. How ironic, that sensible people would put their faith in such an image, rather than a living God who had proven himself faithful to them again and again? He was concerned that the practice would cause fragmentation among the people, disloyalty to his deity, and a general sense of confusion within the nation regarding the mission at hand. Do not do it, he cautioned: “You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you. For the Lord, your God is a jealous God among you, lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 6:14-15). Here, we can see the outcome of the situation should they ignore his warning and pursue their vain passion.

God’s aptitude for vengeance

The term vengeance conveys the idea of payback or retribution, and often, the word revenge is used to express the same feeling.

Most religions condemn revenge, for obvious reasons. This emotion is responsible for getting many of us into trouble—physical conflict, legal disputes, and even full-blown wars in matters of international affairs. Yet, man is naturally predisposed to the condition. We want to get even with those who cross us.

God is not a foreigner to the concept of vengeance. In matters pertaining to conflict among people, he has his own way of handling the situation. Since he knows everything that takes place in our world, no human actions (good or bad) escape his ever-seeing eyes. He rewards those who are kind and loving to others and eventually punishes all wrongdoers, regardless of their socioeconomic status or religious affiliations. Consider the tone of the following verse, for example: “For it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). The phrase “I will repay” establishes an inevitable outcome that will take place in the future, an event that will never be overlooked or forgotten. The text also suggests that although we’re eager to take revenge against those who harm us, God is the only one who can objectively do so with assurance.

God’s susceptibility to remorse

Stunning as it may seem, God has the capacity to show remorse, which implies a sense of personal pain and anguish associated with the feeling of being responsible for something that went wrong. The specific circumstance that comes to mind relates to man’s persistent depravity. At a given moment in history, God assessed the state of humanity on the earth, and the whole situation was repugnant to him. He voiced his frustration in the following manner: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that the intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart” (Genesis 6:5-7). The word “sorry” suggests remorse or regret; and “grieved” indicates mourning or feeling of distress. Both conditions give us the picture that God was emotionally distraught about the state of humanity at the time. The upshot of his assessment resulted in a massive flood that destroyed everyone, including animals.

Yet, God has not been in the habit of expressing regrets. In fact, aside from this account, the Bible provides little evidence where he verbalized his feelings in respect to the emotion, which means it’s not a common occurrence. Nonetheless, it’s clear that he does have the tendency to feel remorse, though no one can condemn his behavior.

God’s affinity for happiness

If you’re now feeling that God is beginning to appear more negative than the loving, gentle character that you had in mind, don’t feel disappointed. In addition to having the ability to feel remorse, which is a good thing, he can also express happiness, which is also good. Happiness is commonly described as an emotional state of well-being, characterized by feelings of contentment, joy, and similar expressions. Can you imagine God jumping up and down in heaven because of something good that was done for him by a person? Well, that is somewhat reaching, but the thought conveys is that he has moments of glee or pleasure from time to time based on certain acts or outcomes from the world of man.

For instance, God generally feels gratified by those who voluntarily recognize his existence and exalt his name. The Bible depicts the condition this way: “Therefore by him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name. But do not forget to do well and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16). This verse and others clearly indicate that he gets pleasure from people who express goodwill toward others as well as those who take the time to give him praise. The situation gets even more gratifying to him when conditions prohibit flexibility and freedom to express gratitude and praise, yet we find ways to genuinely do so despite the situation.

God’s incredible patience

“Patience is a virtue,” says the proverb, but so are diligence, dependability, faith, and many similar character traits that are useful in human development. The difference with patience is the challenge that it poses for those who dare to master it. Seemingly, everyone has difficulty developing an adequate supply of the attribute, partly because of the circumstances through which it must be achieved. Usually, the situation calls for deliberate perseverance in the face of demanding conditions—waiting, enduring, and forbearing without appearing annoyed or angry. Also, each situation comes with its own set of circumstances that requires additional adjustments in people’s moods and temperament, all of which adds to a very long trial that tests the human will to its limits.

God, on the other hand, is a master of patience. When people have reached their limits in forbearance, he continues to persevere indefinitely. This could be because he is not constrained by issues associated with time, aging, and other human encumbrances. As such, his attitude about patience takes on a higher level of behavior known as long suffering, which suggests extreme endurance mixed with love and compassion. These attributes are essential for God in his continued effort in dealing with human imperfections. When he is provoked to anger, he delays his reaction; and when he must act with vengeance, the event may not happen until years later (Numbers 14:18). Meanwhile, he provides tireless warnings before acting to remedy an annoying problem.

God’s amazing love

One of God’s greatest known virtues is love. It is presented in the Bible as though this emotion is the sole essence of his being: “For God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). The degree to which he demonstrates his love is unparalleled to any form of human affection toward God or man. Almost always, the recipients of his generous love are undeserving, yet he reaches out with astonishing compassion to bestow this amazing gift on those who need it the most—all of us.

The event on the cross of Calvary is notably the most epic demonstration of God’s open-hearted gift of love. There, he acted from his own affection and kindness toward humanity in a way that can be matched by no other god or person. Prior to the actual event, Jesus uttered the following words: “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). To put this in perspective, we need to note the love and generosity of some people. There are times when the life of a loved one or friend hangs between life and death as he or she waits for an organ that will bring relief. Some people freely donate a lung or kidney to extend the life of the individual. Few will voluntarily give their lives to save an undeserving stranger from death. Christ did it for us.

God’s abounding mercy

Like many people, you may be aware that God is abundantly merciful, a quality that’s consistent with kindness, benevolence, and forgiveness. This trait complements his other assets such as patience, love, and so forth to highlight the soft, compassionate nature that most of us have come to admire in him, particularly in times of distress. He has proclaimed some of these virtues as self-inherent traits, which are undoubtedly essential in his dealings with humanity: ‘“The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin…’” (Exodus 34:6-7). In this introductory statement, which was given to Moses who was waiting for his arrival on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments for the second time, God encapsulated some of his most enviable qualities toward man. Prior to that moment, he had been angry with Israel and wanted to destroy the people for turning away from his commandments so quickly by giving their allegiance to an image made of gold, as indicated earlier. However, instead of extinguishing their existence from the earth, he overlooked the transgression and offered them mercy, which means forgiving the fault altogether.

God’s complete image

If the preceding depiction of God is different from what you had in mind, this is understandable. Few of us will ever attain a complete grasp of his nature. The mistake is to believe that he is altogether good, meaning loving, caring, etc., with no opposite tendencies. Such an outlook is a one-sided view of his character that often leads to more confusion. For example, you may have heard questions like the following more than once: “If God is so good, why does he allow bad things to happen to me? If God loves everyone, why would he send some people to hell?” My hope is that you’re now able to answer these questions with some degree of confidence.

The reality is that God wants us to see him as a complete character, one who possesses both a positive and negative side that is equally distributed. When seen this way, we begin to see a character who is more like us in many ways—approachable, understanding, compassionate, and loving. At the same time, he possesses unlimited power in all facets of life and retains control over matters of life and death. He has the capacity to become angry, jealous, happy, sad, etc., just like us.

Unlike us, however, God is neutral in many aspects of his personality. He does not change with the times; he can’t be influenced by the ebb and flow of culture; he does not understand shades of gray; and he holds no biases toward any denomination or style of devotion. Traditional, generational, and contemporary worship are all meaningless to him. What he desires from us is repentance when we sin, holiness in fellowship, and enough humility to allow us to recognize him as the Lord of our lives.

To learn more about God, consider reading The Devil in Modern Eden

What are your thoughts on the matter

Knowing that God has the capacity to express the entire spectrum of human emotions, will this change your approach toward him? Will he become more relatable to you?

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