God as Coercer
When it comes to God being coercive, we can respond in one of several ways.
Way #1 – If the Bible says it then that is how it is. Sure, He was coercive during those Old Testament times. He had to be coercive to do what needed to be done. I would have been coercive, too, if I were Him.
Way #2 – The Bible says stuff that I am not totally comfortable with, but I am going to give God a break until all the facts come out.
Way #3 – If God is like how the Bible portrays Him, then I want to head another direction entirely. Agnosticism or atheism suits me fine.
The topic of God as Coercer has been an important one for me personally. Choice theory explains human motivation and behavior better than any other theories of which I am aware. And I have come to appreciate God even more as I think about Him actually creating humankind with the freedom and power that choice theory proclaims. It is so significant to me that God did not create us to be his puppets, but instead gave us this incredible ability to decide what or who we will follow. “Come let us reason together,” He invites (Isaiah 1:18). He seems to be saying, weigh the evidence and choose. There is much in Scripture to support this view. And yet, there are passages in Scripture that also portray God in a different light. This different light portrays God as controlling and even violent. Some see a difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. God is unchanging, though. Jesus himself said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (John 14:9) So how are we to view these God as Coercer passages?
For years I have been collecting Scriptural texts that relate to choice theory. I have categories like Survival & Safety, Love & Belonging, Power & Achievement, Freedom & Autonomy, Joy & Fun, Perceived World, and God the Coercer. As I read different stories and passages, some of them seem to step forward and urge me to store them in one of these folders. Of the three “Ways” described earlier, I am most closely aligned with Way #2, although rather than passively waiting for details to emerge, I am on a mission to find out what’s going on with God and the use of force or manipulation.
Here, for example, are some stories of God as manipulative coercer –
And the Lord told Moses, “When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go.” Exodus 4:21
The way this is worded it leads us to think that God needed Pharaoh to be a power-hungry jerk, so He touched Pharaoh’s heart and made him jerky. Or how about this passage describing a scene from the life of King Saul, which led Saul to look for an anti-depressant in the form of the musician, David –
Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul, and the Lord sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. 1 Samuel 16:14
Again, the writer attributes Saul’s mental distress directly to God. Apparently, Saul was minding his own business when God sent a tormenting spirit to attack him. These texts fly in the face of God creating humankind with free will and the intelligence to make reasoned choices. It flies in the face of the hundreds of times in Scripture where God or angels reassure humans with the words “Don’t be afraid,” or “Fear not.” And it contradicts the apostle Paul’s clear statement that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind.” (1 Tim. 1:7)
The book of 1 Kings in the Old Testament is full of language that makes God responsible for every terrible and destructive action that takes place. When kings and their entire families were assassinated during a coup, it was because God wanted it to happen. If God’s people didn’t obey Him then He would “uproot” them from the land; He would “reject” them; and He would make them “an object of mockery and ridicule.” People will gasp in horror and ask, “Why did the Lord do such terrible things?” You get the gist.
The story of Elijah begins in 1 Kings 17 and even here we see the same language and view of God. Because of a severe drought, Elijah finds shelter and food with a poor family, a widow and her son, in the village of Zarephath. God is miraculously sustaining this little unit, yet when the boy gets sick and dies the mother cries out to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?” (1 Kings 17:17, 18) Her comment reminds us of the way people then viewed the behavior of their gods and the fact that there were uncontrollable forces about that could only be attributed to the supernatural.
I would have expected better from Elijah. I mean, he was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. And he was one of the few people in the history of the earth to be translated without seeing death. The dude has some rather impressive credentials. Yet when he took the boy’s lifeless body upstairs he then did his own crying out. “O Lord my God,” he began, “why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” (v20) Even Elijah had been saturated with this way of looking at God.
I think it is hard for us living in a 21st century secular world to relate to the 9th century BC religious world. If we define religion as a vehicle for humans to access, relate to, and appease their gods, then the world during Old Testament times would have been a deeply religious place. Unfortunately, similar to the Greek gods of mythology, the “gods” of the Old Testament were capricious, arbitrary, moody, and self-serving, even to the point of demanding human sacrifices. “Gods” of that day were thought to control nature and cause catastrophes as a way to manipulate humans. This was the context of the day; not an accurate context, but it was their view of reality. And it was the context in which God had to communicate. I think this issue, the context issue, is the cause for a lot of our misunderstanding regarding God’s Old Testament behavior. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I think this is a part of the answer.
My quest to know God better and to be in relationship with Him is very important to me, and my belief in choice theory is very important to me, too. The two really need to be able to go together. I want to remain open as I continue to search for clues that speak to the extent to which God is a choice theorist. My belief is that God is the ultimate choice theorist, that He invented the concept of freedom and wants us to experience freedom every day. Stay tuned.
“Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, He gives freedom.” 2 Cor. 3:17
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I have often had similar thoughts about God, and His ‘involvement’ in all of the horrible things that happen…pain, suffering, sickness, death…even the suffering in the world of nature and the planet itself. My heart knows that God is not evil, and He is not the One who causes bad things to happen, but He ‘allows’ or gives permission for all things to happen, and this is where I have difficulty understanding God, and separating His role in the sad and evil happenings on planet earth. Especially when I see so much suffering…at home in my family, in my community, and all around the world. I find myself begging God for answers that will bring comfort to my mind in regards to who and what He really is. At times I think about these things so deeply that I wonder if I have entered a place of doubting, second guessing, and even disrespecting God with my wondering and questioning…I sometimes sit and wait for the lightening bolt! I’m not sure what I think about God at times.
Excellent thought/article. I also see myself with Way #2. I have also been curious to know more about God and how he has handles people. I believe we are also on a journey to know the character of God. As I write this I’m in China teaching English for two months. As I teach in a different culture I want to see God through the wonderful students in China. I know we serve such an amazing God and plan to uncover more of a His character as I teach, not sure how it will look, but as I teach I’m going to pray that God reveals Himself in new ways.
I saw on Facebook that you were headed somewhere, but I couldn’t tell where. Your comment answers that question. Thanks for checking in from China. I agree with you that our picture of God is so important! How we view ourself and others is very dependent on how we view God. I look forward to hearing more about your China experience.
I just read a book that answered this for me in the best way I’ve heard yet. The book is called “Servant God” and is a compilation from many different authors (and is available on Amazon). I’m only through the first few chapters, and I’m finding it to be amazingly insightful. The summary is that in the Old Testament times people worshiped many gods. If God had identified the source of evil as Satan, then Satan would have been added to the list of gods for the people to worship. God wanted His people to understand that there was only one God. In order to do this, He had to take the blame for the things that Satan did. I hope I am conveying this correctly, it is worded and evidenced so much better in the book!
Your comment has really got me to thinking. Even as I write this I am still thinking about it. I guess I will be buying a copy of Servant God. Thank you for giving me a heads up on that book.
The concept and promise of The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31) is very Choice Theory. God says that “I will put my law within them, and write it on their hearts.” Jesus supposedly fulfilled the promise. “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) It’s one of my favorite ideas. It decentralizes spirituality.
I resonate with the idea of decentralized spirituality. It comes down to our personal walk with the Spirit. A “choice” walk at that. I really appreciate your reminder about the New Covenant and how the law will be written on our hearts, which is such an incredible example of our internal locus of control, rather than being controlled by outside forces, including the force of God.
Really great stuff…I think about this dilemma often, and your words have helped consider it in new ways..
It seems like such an important area to me. I continue to think about it. Let me know if you have thoughts on it.
I have struggled with this, as well.