Does God Have a Split-Personality?

I saw a video called Jesus Loves You at Things on Bryan’s Mind and Inhabitatio Dei. Basically, you see this sloven ogre-looking fellow with an urbane British accent asking questions about Christian doctrines.

The ogre reported that he received an e-mail saying, “Jesus loves you, but if you don’t accept him you will go to hell.” The ogre thought that this kind of love appeared to be conditional. He said that he could understand conditional love, since he loved his wife when she looked like a super-model, but he left her when she was picking up weight and getting to be a slob. But he confessed that he was shallow. For him, Jesus should be a cut above him.

The ogre asked the Christian these questions and received a response, which said that Jesus wants him to go to heaven, but that he’d have to send him to hell if he did not accept him. The ogre was puzzled. Who says that Jesus has to do anything? If Jesus wants him to go to heaven, and Jesus can do whatever he wants, then why can’t Jesus let him in?

The Christian then sent the ogre an e-mail saying that Jesus actually loved him, but his Father thought he was bad. Then, the Christian compounded the ogre’s confusion by saying that Jesus equals his Father.

The video was taking on a variety of issues. First, he was trying to get an understanding of the substitutionary atonement, the doctrine that Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. To many critics, that doctrine is problematic because it presents Jesus as having to appease a wrathful, bloodthirsty deity.

Second, he was seeking to grasp the Trinity, which includes the idea that Jesus and the Father are one God.

I remember once trying to explain Christianity to an atheist friend of mine. I was presenting him the picture that I always got: You have God the Father sitting on his throne. Satan is continually accusing Christians by pointing out their bad behavior, while Jesus pleads with God to have mercy on them. Jesus points to the wounds on his hands (or, more precisely, his wrists) to convince God that their penalty has been paid.

That didn’t make much sense to my atheist friend. “And you’re saying Jesus and the Father are one God?” he asked. “So does God have a split personality? Part of him wants to whip us, while another part prefers mercy?”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon may have heard the same kind of question in his day. In a sermon that he preached, he tried to dispel the notion that Jesus is merciful while his Father is full of wrath. After all, Spurgeon noted, John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. The God who loved the world had to be the God the Father, since he was sending his Son.

I’ll admit that I don’t understand a lot of this, and that the picture of the atonement that I was presenting to my atheist friend looks rather bizarre. After all, does God need Jesus to remind him that he died for their sins? In that scenario, you have the Father, getting up to smite his children. Then, Jesus steps in and says to him, “Wait! Don’t do this! I already died for their sins.” “Oh yeah,” the Father responds.

But Christians are getting this scenario from the Bible, in some way, shape, or form. Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus makes intercession for the saints. Revelation 12:10 states that Satan accuses the brethren before God day and night. And Christians can find “types” in the Old Testament of Jesus’ intercession. There is the Golden Calf incident, in which God is about to destroy Israel for her big sin, but Moses intercedes for his people and offers his own life in their place (Exodus 32). The Book of Job talks about an umpire between humans and God, as well as a ransom from death (Job 9:33; 33:24). In both pictures, God is a strict or inaccessible being, while the intercessor is kind, merciful, and understanding.

Of course, God is the one who established the office of prophet, which includes an intercessory role. And Ezekiel 22:30 says that God actually looks for someone to stand in the breach and intercede for his people. So there is a sense in which God does love the world and wants it to have an intercessor. Intercession does not take place apart from his will, at least not always (see Jeremiah 7:16).

I’m not sure how literally we should take the scenario of Jesus interceding on our behalf before his Father, who is a God of justice. I’m hesitant to say “That’s just a metaphor,” for that is often a dismissal. If we are to say it’s a metaphor, then we should at least specify what all of its components mean. Overall, the scenario is trying to say that God has mercy on us, even if we do not deserve it. And the mercy is not only a one time event that took place when we accepted Christ and became justified. We need continual forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, for we sin every day. And God assures us that his mercy is an endless stream. Plus, we can take comfort that someone in the Godhead experienced the human condition for himself, meaning that he can sympathize with us.

I have some other comments on what the ogre said, but I’ll save them for later.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Does God Have a Split-Personality?

  1. Bryan L says:

    I think one of the reasons I’m an annihilationist is because I think it helps solve some of this. Because of the first sin we are going to die. We are limited. That is our state. God has defeated death and wants to offer us eternal life but we need to be united to Christ for that. If not then we will just continue on the course we are on towards eternal death. There is no punishment and wrathful God waiting to torture us forever for not accepting him. It’s just us refusing this wonderful gift that God offered us and then ceasing to exist when we die.

    That’s how I see it anyway.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

    Like

  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I don’t know–is it really much better for God to snuff out the vast majority of mankind? Okay, yeah, it is better than being tormented forever and ever, but is it a good option?

    Plus, Scripturally speaking, I’m kind of mixed on annihilationism. There are plenty of Scriptures about the consumption and death of the wicked, but then there are those Revelation passages about torment occurring forever and ever.

    Like

  3. Bryan L says:

    James I don’t know that man is being snuffed out by God. I mean our mortality was always conditional from the very start. I guess when we decide to be autonomous God puts a limit on our mortality and time on this earth and let’s it run its course all the while holding out a gift for us to accept should we choose that we want to experience eternity with God.

    Of course there are other issues dealing with questions like what about people who don’t hear about the Gospel or that are misinformed or something like that which I think are issues that should be dealt with but for me I start with the belief in annihilationism to overcome the problem you first raised.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

    Like

  4. James Pate says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I once talked with an Anglican who told me about the view that the unsaved just die and that is their punishment. Is that your view? Or do you think that they are resurrected and destroyed in the Lake of Fire?

    Like

  5. Bryan L says:

    I think it can go either way. I think that perhaps they may just die and be no more, or they may be resurrected to find out what they’re missing out on and then destroyed. I don’t know about the lake of fire though. It sounds like it’s just metaphorical language to me for utter destruction or something. Sometimes I’m curious though whether the particularly wicked will be resurrected and receive some actual punishment of some sort although perhaps not eternal.

    Bryan

    Like

  6. James Pate says:

    Yeah, there are passages that seem to present death as just a natural outgrowth of the sins of the flesh (Romans 8, Galatians 5). That seems to go with what that Anglican was saying. Yet, there are also passages about a last judgment.

    I appreciate what you said about the particularly wicked. But I often get the impression when I read Paul that he views all humanity as particularly wicked. The Jews at least have some middle ground–and they present God weighing a person’s good deeds and bad deeds to see which one predimonates. But one Christian addressed my issue with Romans 1-3 by saying that Paul was talking about humanity as a group–he wasn’t saying that each and every individual was horrible or the worse that he could be.

    Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Like

  7. Bryan L says:

    You know it’s something that I’ve been meaning to look more into. As far as Paul and specifically Romans sometimes I feel like he was just trying to make a point to his imaginary interlocutor to set up the rest of his argument and I’m not so sure he really imagined all that weren’t righteous were then wicked. I know there are different views on sin and some say all are the same and none worse than the other but I don’t really see that view in the Bible and I think the Bible does picture some people as particular wicked, more so than others. But again it’s something I’ve been meaning to look into lately.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

    Like

  8. Ferg says:

    I’m always quite intrigued as to why Christians feel the need to talk about hell so much. I’m with a lot (i should say some) of christians who wonder about an angry God who wants to pour out his wrath upon mankind but sends his own son to take it for us instead. i think steve chalke has called this ‘cosmic child abuse’. One of the reasons i like the christus victor view on the atonement is because it answers some of the questions about God sending his own son to save us from himself.
    anyways, I was only talking to a christian last wednesday and he was saying how do i feel about the thought of loved ones going to hell and i told him that I have no idea who has or hasn’t gone there. who am i to judge? the man next to jesus on the cross who had lived an outrageous life of sin (i’m presuming), a few hours before his death professed to believe in Jesus and he recieved eternal life. God is a gracious God, not wanting anyone to perish. I’m not a universalist, however i think God gives us so many chances. it’s the difference between grace and karma. we don’t deserve it. i don’t deserve Gods grace just as much as a serial paedophile doesn’t, however God sent his son to die for the convicted paedophile and he is a person of (as greg boyd would say) “unsurpassable worth”, just the same as he did for me. he loves that guy as much as he loves his own son – he is full of mercy and grace and if everyone ends up going to heaven in the end – awesome. God doesn’t need to exact his justice to proove he’s just. he can pour out his mercy all he likes. I’m so so grateful that he does!
    The guy i was talking to was annoyed because, that guy on the cross got to have the life he wanted and then turned to God at the last minute and still gets to heaven, despite the fact that he tries so hard to please God everyday and its difficult and he doesn’t know if he’ll get to heaven. I think he’s completely missing the point of Gods outrageous love. I’m going to meet up with him this week for a beer!

    Like

  9. James Pate says:

    Hi Ferg!

    Thanks for stopping by. I pray that God gives you words of wisdom for your friend.

    I have a question for you. You seem to criticize the substitutionary atonement model in favor of the Christus Victor model. But then you say that Christ died for all kinds of people, even the worse sinners. When I read “Christ died for” someone, what immediately goes through my head is substitution–the good old Anselm model. But what do you mean when you say that Christ died for sinners?

    Like

  10. Celucien L. Joseph says:

    I’m afraid not! God does not have a split personality. Read my subsequent post on the topic :). Here’s the link,
    http://lou9587.blogspot.com/2008/03/is-god-bi-polar.html

    Regards,
    Lou

    Like

  11. James Pate says:

    Hi Celucien! Thanks for stopping by.

    I enjoyed your post, particularly that quote on the unity and integration of God’s various attributes. And, in some sense, I agree with you, perhaps not smoothly, but I agree with you. The God with whom I have a relationship is a whole being.

    But, to be honest, evangelicals are often the ones who make me struggle with this question, though not intentionally. The cross is often presented as God reconciling his love and his wrath, as if there are two attributes of God in tension with one another. But what I wonder is this: How do the two attributes co-exist in God the person, in a way that is healthy and unified?

    One more thing to mention: You quote the Onion article as if it is serious. Most (if not all) Onion articles are satires. Their stories are not real. I used to see the Onion all the time in New York. One had a headling “But Tells Unemployed: Get a Job!” But the article still offers interesting ideas, which you do well to engage.

    Like

  12. Ferg says:

    hey james,
    when i say ‘Christ died for’, i guess you automatically assumed that i meant in place of. while a sense of that is true, i meant the word ‘for’ in terms of him leading a battle on our behalf and being victorious. such as manning won the superbowl for the giants. he didn’t win it instead of the giants, he won it on behalf of the giants…leading them to victory if they were on his team. (i hope that makes sense!!)

    Like

  13. James Pate says:

    Hey Ferg!

    Yes, he did it for the benefit of us. In the Christus Victor model, it would be to recreate us, or to give us an example. One of these. I’ve heard the Christus Victor model explained in both ways. What’s your explanation of it?

    Like

Comments are closed.