When God talks like an abusive boyfriend

God AbuseA friend who writes a blog about being an atheist in the Bible Belt recently posted this on Facebook:

I have never heard more hatred spoken toward being human than I have heard in the lyrics of Christian music. The negativity is overpowering.

I have noticed this, too, but never mentioned it to anyone, thinking the real problem was me for “not getting it” or being too prideful. But the more I think about it, is it really necessary for the Christian to dwell on how depraved she is in order to praise how good God is? Isn’t God good just for the sake of being…God?

The worship songs are catchy, heart-stirring, and emotional, with lines that many people hear outside of church, Christian or otherwise:

“I’m nothing without you.”

“I’m not good enough for you.”

“How could you ever love someone like me?”

Aside from not being moved by crowds of people waving their arms and singing off-key in general, this is the next biggest reason why worship music doesn’t connect me with God: I have a problem when lyrics describing how God feels about me sound very similar to how my abusive ex boyfriend felt about me. If those lines above came from another human being, how many of us would feel an instinct to tell the person hearing them that she needs to leave?

Doesn’t it seem problematic that a person who hears this stuff from God won’t recognize it as a red flag if the same words come from a dating partner?

Whatever happened to the humble simplicity of lines like, “I once was lost, but now I’m found”?

The balance of a healthy self-esteem with a healthy awareness of my shortcomings has been a delicate one. There is a kind of Christianity that attracts abusers because it allows them easy access to forgiveness under the guise of grace (albeit cheap grace). At the same time, this kind of Christianity draws in victims of abuse because it reiterates the messages they are told every day, directly or indirectly: that they are nothing; that they are horrid and despicable; that no one could ever love them as they are. It is no surprise that this kind of Christianity enables victims to stay instead of building them up and encouraging them to pursue true freedom.

At the same time, there are other narratives of Christianity that have empowered victims of domestic violence, whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing. There’s a kind of Christianity out there that gently places a balm over old wounds by telling the survivor that she is loved the way she is; that she is worthy and has dignity. I can’t say which narrative is the “correct” one, but I’m inclined to believe it’s the one that endorses inherent worth and purpose, because no one I’ve ever heard of accomplished amazing things while still believing she is a wretch.

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18 thoughts on “When God talks like an abusive boyfriend

  1. Iriss says:

    Hi Sarahbeth,

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have been really struggling with the concept of an “abusive” God these past five years. I honestly feel as if God has been REALLY unhappy and unpleased with me these past five years as a result of some personal innocuous choices I have made, but since then, I really feel as if I’m experiencing a different God from the God I thought I knew prior to making that choice. I feel as if I’m seeing a “Dr. Jekkle and Hyde” turn-about in terms of the difference I am noticing in terms of God’s presence, character and guidance in my life. These past five years, I have experience things I never could have imagined and each of these experiences seem abusive, unkind and extremely illogical for me. I cannot imagine that a loving God would allow all of these things to happen in my life or not to steer me away from these negative experiences even though I have tried to pray, asked others to pray and have tried to read the Bible and have tried to seek guidance from God. Instead, all I face is a disapproving silence from God, an overwhelming sense of guilt and a sense that God just isn’t a Father, friend or even someone who is on my side. I know that I do not know you, but if you could point me to any resources that might even be of help to me, I would appreciate it. I really feel as if God wants me to infinitely put up with the faults and abusiveness of others and the infringing on my boundaries by others, but I do not have this kind of a capacity or patience anymore…

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  2. 2015angela says:

    This goes right along with what I heard in church yesterday. That God loves me. God loves me when I’m good and God loves me when I’m bad. No difference. So many churches and christians live legalism. I agree some of those christian songs aren’t happy or joyful, their self-loathing. 😦

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  3. Laura says:

    I have been a believer in God since I was 3, but I have increasingly come to realize that tearing people down is the way for a church to maintain control. It’s very much like being in an abusive, manipulative relationship. It’s so unfortunate that Psalm 8:5-8 is overlooked, the gist of which is that God “crowned” human beings “…with glory and majesty! 6You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;” Human beings have high worth to God!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lydia Thomas says:

    I have wrestled with this, too, but have come to the conclusion that God takes pride in ALL of His creation, inside of Christ or not. He calls all of it good. And that is how I have learned to look at my humanity. (Which is not to say I don’t royally fuck up at times, but that’s never been my identity). Read another post on something similar recently that might interest you: https://melwild.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/no-good-thing/#more-12620.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      I agree, and I’m trying to find ways of describing what I mean when I say that humans are “sinners” which aligns with that idea. There’s a definition of sin that simply means “missing the mark,” and then there’s the Calvinist “total depravity” idea that I just cannot accept, because to me it contradicts what you just said about God calling his creation good. Doesn’t mean we *do* good all the time, however…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. AthenaC says:

    Lately I’ve been mulling over something related – “What if God is abusive?” I don’t actually think God is abusive, but it’s pretty clear that many people invoke His name in order to be abusive. And if you’re on the receiving end of that, especially as a child, what’s the difference? Having worked through triggers and related issues myself, I have to wonder, how many people are atheist because it’s critical to their mental and emotional survival that they be atheist? And where would a person go from there in their faith / non-faith journey?

    I don’t anticipate coming up with any decent answers. At least not for a long, long time.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. hilary922 says:

    I’m feeling this too. I went to Rosh Hashanah services today, and like every year we used the New Union Prayer Book “Gates of Repentance.” It was published in the 70’s, the Reform High Holy Day prayerbook. There’s a passage that goes “This is the day of the world’s rebirth. This day all creatures stand before You, whether as children or as slaves. As we are Your children, show us a parent’s compassion; as we are slaves, we look to you for mercy . . .” I had to get up and leave the sanctuary at that point. I’ve never liked that passage but I just couldn’t sit down for a liturgy that compares us to slaves. Both for how deeply morally wrong it felt to be slaves to god and how wrong it felt to be talking about ourselves, white (98%) mostly middle class free Americans, when there really are slaves out there who aren’t wearing nice clothes and sitting safely in a place to pray while taking a day off of work or school.

    The dissonance of that just drove me nuts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Beth Caplin says:

      As we discussed last night I haven’t experienced much of that in temple, but I certainly take your word for it. Judaism as a whole doesn’t seem nearly as self-loathing, though (maybe in Orthodoxy?).

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