Ask the average person what they think God is "like" and I imagine most answers will work around the premise that he is a basically loving and kind Father-like figure who hates the things we hate and punishes those we perceive as being evil. Essentially, he is a good and just king who cares deeply about his loyal subjects—however, he is not a monarch without a temper. Like a favorite uncle or family patriarch, he may be at one point lavish with his generosity and love, but one had better not ignore him or get him upset for he has this rather unpleasant, judgmental side as well and he's not afraid to show it.

While some hold a more complex images of God in their mind's eye, I submit this is the general perspective of the Divine from the western perspective. God is someone "out there" apart from ourselves who holds to strong opinions and maintains certain expectations of his creation. And, since humanity seems to excel in failing to live up to those expectations, it is natural to assume he therefore is frequently angry with most of us.

This basic assumption that underlies the foundation of western religion is what produces so much guilt and feelings of "unworthiness" where God is concerned, and guilt is the element that fuels both western thought and religious belief. In fact, it is this underlying premise that is the very reason for religion; it is the effort to broach the presumed chasm that exists between a perfect holy God and his wicked and fallen creation; a chasm which can be crossed only through sacrifice, obedience, or through some other form of atonement.

But is this what God is really like? Are we so busy trying to appease him that we've never bothered to ask if all this anger talk is true? Have we simply assumed anger and disappointment where none is warranted? Does God have standards we must meet and then become angry when we fail to meet them?

Unfortunately the Bible and other religious texts make this very suggestion, but as we have already discussed elsewhere on this site, there is no reason to accept the Bible as either authoritative or accurate on this matter. Statements of God's wrath and retribution contained within the words of the sixty-six books that make up the Bible were written during a simpler, more barbaric, and superstitious time when men truly imagined their Gods as angry deities needing to be appeased and obeyed. It reflects the attitudes, fears, and prejudices of another time and the opinions, bias and theories of long-dead prophets and scribes. Their power and authority lies only in how seriously we decide to take their words, which, I believe, are simply a reflection of how afraid we are. The more need for certainty one has in their life, the greater the need to have some external body of supposedly divinely inspired teachings to hold on to. The Bible—along with many other religious texts—provide that certainty for many, and as such the myth of the angry God not only survives to this day, but even manages to flourish.

Spirituality, in contrast, while recognizing the wisdom and comfort contained in many external sources, determines what God is like by looking within, not without, and in doing so finds a very different God than that traditionally portrayed by western religion. It takes the idea of a God that is unconditionally loving seriously, and so cannot perceive of a deity that could conceive of a place of eternal torment, much less have the ability to send anyone there (or, if you insist, permit anyone to send themselves there through their own rebelliousness). Spirituality understands the nature of true love, and since that nature is always geared towards healing and unity, it renders any and all concepts of eternal punishment erroneous. God simply cannot be that which both loves and judges at the same time for the two ideas are mutually exclusive. If he loves, there is no room for judgment—much less retribution—and if he judges, he is not unconditionally loving. Of course, some clever folks try to get around this by suggesting that God's love is not unconditional, but there is no such thing as "conditional" love. Love cannot be realized within the context of certain parameters. Either one loves or one does not. If one doesn't understand that they are simply playing the in the sandbox of spirituality and have yet to make it out of preschool. Therefore, if one accepts the idea that God is loving, the concept of hell must be discarded. There are simply no other options on the table.

Once we accept this idea that there is no such thing as eternal retribution, much of the fear of God leaves us and the underpinnings of the concept of an angry God disappears as well. However, even if we can accept this "radical" idea, we aren't out of the woods yet for there is still this notion that even if there is no eternal consequences for our sins, we still might disappoint God in some way. The thought that even if he will not punish us for our failings and human foibles but insists on loving us despite them, that he is still capable of being disappointed—much as human parents may be of a foolish child—is a difficult one to shake. It is why even those who retain no belief in hell remain on the treadmill of trying to please God, living up to what we imagine his expectations are of us but constantly frustrated by our repeated failures and spiritual laziness.

But this, too, fails to understand the nature of love. Does a parent get furious with the child who keeps falling down while attempting to take her first steps? Does a wise and kind teacher give up on the student who, despite their best efforts, still fails to understand calculus? Does the loving Mother hate her child for discovering the joys of playing in mud and then bringing that discovery into her clean home? Mistakes, foolishness, and even laziness are a part of all children's growing process; the wise parent understands that and so does the loving God.

But what of the child who refuses to try? What of those that show only apathy about their falling grade point average or are unwilling to try something that you know they would excel at, considering their talent and skill in that particular area?

Again, love does not expect nor demand anything. It simply encourages, waits, and understands. Love knows a child is only hurting itself by its obstinate laziness and immature irresponsibility; it has no need to punish such behavior by diminishing love's intensity through disappointment. Love understands that everyone is at a different place spiritually and so not only anticipates failure but sees failure as a part of the process of spiritual evolution. It—and God—understand the rebellion, the mistakes, the selfishness, and the apathy to all be a part of the grand plan. God would not even perceive failure as such, for failure is only possible when a product does not perform in an anticipated manner, and since God has no expectations of us, there is no way we can fail to live up to them. Our shortcomings and mistakes are defined as such only within the context of our subjective mind, not God's.

Therefore, if we cannot be judged and eternally punished by God because of the nature of unconditional love, and we cannot disappoint him by our foolish actions because he sees them as simply a part of the process, then what is there to fear? If we cannot fail but can only learn and grow, the angry God becomes merely an ancient myth developed by a frightened people disappointed with their own perceived short-comings; short-comings that are not only natural, but in many ways are an important part of the process. Once we understand this basic truth, we will be at last freed from the vise-like grip of the angry God and be more willing to take the hand of the gentle God.

The big problem with this from the perspective of religion is that once we come to this realization, religion losses its power base. We become, then, free moral agents beyond its control and, as such, a threat to the very institution that is the church itself. And it will fight you on this, just as any institution of power and privilege would if similarly threatened. Spirituality is freedom because it truly understands God as the very essence of love that religion professes him as being, and there is no greater danger to authority than having someone call its bluff. Yet that is precisely what we must do if we are ever to leave the angry God and find our way to the light of wisdom and knowledge where divinity actually resides.