false gods: the bully

The final false view of God is a very sad one, but one that many of us have hidden somewhere in our hearts. As we explore this view of God, I ask gently if you hold this view somewhere in your heart.

 The Bully Complex

As sad as it is, many have come to view God as a sort of cosmic bully, hovering above earth, sucking the fun out of life and robbing people of anything they enjoy. On paper, this sounds very dramatic and makes you wonder why on earth anyone would want to worship a god like that, but it is actually a very common and often subconscious view of the Lord. When we view God this way, our lives become an endless series of hoops to jump through—riddled with fear of disappointing God and overcome with guilt and shame over our inevitable shortcomings. When we have a bully complex of God, we are afraid to getting attached to anyone or anything for fear of loving it too deeply and prompting our jealous God to take it away.

I can tell that I have a lingering bully complex of God by the way I try to micromanage my emotions and desires. I didn’t want to want to get married, because somewhere I believed that if I really wanted anything that wasn’t just him, God wouldn’t let me have it. I tried not to dream my dreams because they didn’t directly involve vocational ministry. I came to believe that God’s will was like a giant maze that I had to figure out, and that he was waiting on high with lightning bolts, ready to steer me back at my first misstep. I would neither think ill of him nor allow myself to question him at all, supposing it could always be much worse. I grew to view my Lord as or of a tyrant than a loving father. As a result, I came across guarded in relationships, aloof and disconnected, constantly walking on eggshells with a disciplined apathy toward anything secular. Charming right? And all of this was under the pretense that I was living for God and I trusted him. Micromanaging emotions and desires are generally learned defense mechanisms, derived in effort to self-protect and avoid a familiar pang of disappointment, or worse, the feeling that God let us down. I was convinced that this was what it meant to trust God—to empty myself of attachment or feeling so that when he decided to take something, I would be okay. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I didn’t genuinely trust that God was good; I just operated out of fear and distanced myself from all else so that he would be the only thing I could possibly want or love. This is neither a right view of the Father nor of love. Often we confuse affectionate reverence with trepidation that comes from the wounded or abused. Often we project our past experiences with people who have withheld affection in order to manipulate onto our God, and consequently perform for him, striving for his approval but anticipating his disappointment. This false gospel assumes that we can earn his affection if we can just get ourselves together. Believer, please recognize that this thinking is as false as it is foolish. We now bear the righteousness of Christ, because of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21), we are able to approach the throne of grace in confidence, because of Jesus (Hebrews 4:16), because of Christ God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31). His character is just and right and good— and I invite you to not take me at my word, but to study the Scriptures yourself and let him reveal that to you. To the one who harbors bully complex of the Lord, Jesus reminds us that if we are capable of being good, then He is abundantly more so: “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:8-11, ESV). And more than all of this, Romans tells us that because of Christ we get to have hope, we get to have confidence, and we receive not mere approval, but love– and great love at that! “ What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, ESV).

Do you have a bully complex of God? What does it look like in your life?

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