This is something to interact with because as a Christian this is something that we would never consider or possibly conceive of. God being a bully.
We see the offer of rescue versus an eternity in hell as simply that, a rescue. As our hearts are soft to the possibility of God however we recognize that the Gospel is not simply fire insurance but a love letter from the creator to his creation. A message of concern for sure but an entrance into a life-giving relationship. But what does a disbelieving world think of such a charge?
I have seen a few times where God has been referred to as a tyrant or a bully. The idea being that he has created this mess and then forces us to make a decision which is really no decision at all.
So does this stick? Does this charge ring accurate?
The answer is of course sin. If we are not guilty then there is no desert and thus it is coercion. But what if we are guilty?
A guilty man sentenced to the chair does not call his executioner a bully but recognizes the punishment for what it is. He may still be angry and rage against it but it does not change justice to cruelty. Have you noticed that we are increasingly wanting to talk and engage in rehabilitation but not punishment? Does the prison system rehabilitate and if not should we use it? Yes, because prison is a punishment, it serves as an example of what happens when citizens step out of line. It is an instructor teaching the rules. When justice is perverted there must be an answer or we foster anarchy. This is the question, is it justice or not? Is God just? So which is it, is God nothing more than a bully pushing for our lunch money or is he the very definition of justice calling us to task?
I suppose it depends on if someone does any self-reflection at all. The world of man is literally bumping heads with the kingdom of God. Is it noble to shake our fists at deity because we have decided on a different course of living? Is it noble to not go quietly into the dark, kicking and screaming?
Who has jurisdiction?
We all recognize the evil when a regime forfeits law and simply destroys their enemies and perverts justice. We get it, but is that what God is doing?
Does the creator have jurisdiction over his product or not? Or does the clay talk back to the potter? Romans 9 is all about this. I think this has in part to do with our tendency to romanticize the underdog. If we view God as the Empire (because all Empires are evil) then of course it is a good thing to resist. But resisting for the sake of our own way is not always a good thing. This is why ideas and revolutions need to be evaluated. Is it right for me to rebel? It is right for me to resist?
I believe as our world continually tries to progress the people want less and less to do with a monarch. We want democracy! We want our choices! We want our freedoms! We want our definitions! Our Way! These would be useful virtues in and of themselves especially in a vacuum of purpose and order. But if there is an ordered society who has ordered it? Is there someone who stands over creation? Is it even a creation or merely just happenstance? If it is happenstance then I can rebel! If it is creation then who created it and what does he want?
These are those great questions. Why are we here? Who am I? Why is there something rather than nothing? If you answer with chance then chances are you will rebel to authority because whose authority is going to tell you anything! If you answer with order than something orders it and therefore we begin to understand true authority.
A Government with jurisdiction gets to make demands of the people. A second angle here is the how we present the Gospel. Is it a demand made to the masses of repentance because they are accountable or should the message be more nuanced to draw and entice hearts? One makes God appear to be a judge calling us to task and one appears as a friend who is merely making calls.
I believe the answer is yes, to both. Here’s why.
If we are soft and humble we will view God as these things and respond understanding our need and the love, but if not the message will either strike us authoritarian or seduction to still yet a selfish tyrannical God. I don’t believe the nature of the message is the problem but the nature of the soul that hears it. Are we Pharaoh in response to God’s command? Are we the Pharisees in response to God’s call? Are we Sodom in response to God’s promptings? Or, are we the Disciples in response to God’s call, are we Nicodemus in response to God’s teaching? Are we like Nineveh in response to the oracles against the city?
Would Pharaoh have responded better if Moses asked instead of told? Would the Pharisees have responded better if Jesus was nicer to them? Would Sodom have repented if God was more lenient in his morality? Some think so, but then some think he is a bully don’t they?
Perhaps some of us are like Jesus’ own family who needed more revelation before they came around to faith? Thankfully Jesus’ family is an example of a third way, one that simply takes more time. This is what Christianity must work with; I can’t assume dissenters are Pharaohs but hope that they are James and Judes.
The question is are we receptive or not to an external calling on us? Are we humble enough to admit we may need some help? Are we longing enough for there to be more to this life? Are we open enough to the possibility of God? Why or why not?
Even entertaining this questions is a step in the right direction.
In this case I believe a Bully is in the Eye of a Beholder. This is why proof will never suffice because it is not about “seeing” but a willingness to “believe”. I pray that faith comes around for you.