Do you remember the joke about the little Scottish boy who refuses to eat two nasty, shriveled prunes on his plate? His mother cajoles and pleads. Finally she tells him, as she has many times before, that if he doesn't obey her, God will be angry. Usually it works, but this time the stubborn child holds out, and the mother, herself angry, sends him straight to bed. No sooner does he get there than a storm sets in, with lightning and thunder crashing around them. Feeling contrite and thinking that her child must be terrified, the mother sneaks to her son's room to reassure him. She opens the door quietly, expecting to find him burrowed under the covers. But no, he is at the window, peering out into the night. As she watches, he shakes his head and says in an incredulous, reproving voice, "Such a fuss to make over two prunes!"
In the Hebrew Bible, in the book of 1 Samuel, the Philistines are battling with God's chosen people, the Israelites. The Israelites have a very special object, which you might recognize from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is the Ark of the Covenant, a box made of wood covered in gold, with sculptured angels on top and a golden jar inside. Maybe it contains manna -- food that dropped from heaven. Or maybe it contains fragments of stone tablets. At any rate, the Philistines capture it in battle. The Israelites are angry, and God gets angry, too. No sooner do those Philistines cart off the box than plagues befall them -- a plague of mice, for example. Then the ark is taken from town to town, but the men of each town get hemorrhoids, which must have been particularly wretched in the days before toilet paper and Preparation H. (Don't miss the full story; the resolution is awesome. See 1 Samuel 6: 1-15.) Mice and hemorrhoids -- such a fuss over a golden box!
In other stories from the Bible, both Old Testament and New, God gets angry and does things that strike us as a rather big fuss. In 2 Kings, for example, the prophet Elisha gets mad because some kids (boys, of course) are making fun of him and calling him Baldhead. Elisha curses them, and apparently God is mad, too, because he sends two female bears out of the woods, and they maul and kill 42 of those boys (2 Kings 2: 23-24). In the book of Matthew, Jesus is traveling along and he sees a fig tree. He is hungry, so he goes over to it. But it is bare because -- as the writer tells us -- figs aren't in season. So Jesus gets angry and curses the tree, and it withers and dies on the spot (Matthew 21:18-19).
In all of these stories, what jumps out at most of us is a sense of disproportionality. God's reaction seems so out of scale with the transgression! That is what makes us laugh at the joke, because the little boy notices it when his mom doesn't expect him to; and it is what makes biblical literalists squirm about the other stories. We expect God to not be the kind of guy who needs anger-management classes. He shouldn't need to breathe deeply and leave the room lest he, heaven forbid, do something he will regret. (Note: If you research these stories, you will find all manner of convoluted apologetics arguing that God's reactions were in fact proportional. Those 42 lads were Crips and Bloods carrying switchblades, for example...)
Adolescent psychologist Laura Kastner recently wrote an acclaimed book about parenting during the teen years. The book, Getting to Calm, is about "emotional regulation," getting yourself into a modulated, sensible mental space so that you can teach self-regulation to your kid, whose frontal lobe isn't quite all there yet. According to Kastner, calling in the she-bears means that we, as parents, have failed at our own mission -- we're in meltdown right along with our teens.
We expect God to be good at emotional regulation, even better at it than Dr. Kastner asks parents to be when faced with teens gone haywire. (If I have to "be the adult in the room," then God does, too; after all, He should have this stuff mastered.) Another way of saying this is that we expect God to have a very high "E.Q." (Emotional Quotient). When this seems to be violated, we experience dissonance, and we may laugh, question our beliefs, or make intellectual moves to restore a sense of consistency.
What doesn't strike us as bizarre, in fact, what we tend accept without thought, is the storyteller's assumption that God has emotions. We don't expect Him not to have emotions, or that would be crux of the joke: Isn't it funny -- the kid and his mom think that God gets angry! We simply expect Him to have a sense of proportion. The idea that God has emotions seems so natural that most people who believe in gods never question it. The God of the Bible gets angry, has regrets, gets lonely, loves, has loyalties, is jealous, feels compassion, and is vindictive. In the incarnation of Jesus, he also is afraid and weeps.
For a psychology nerd like me, that is fascinating, and I think when you finish reading this series you'll understand why. Starting just from abstractions or the evidence of the natural world, it isn't a given that the force that designed the DNA code would get mad or sad or jealous. Or rather, I should say that it isn't a given in the abstract. We will see that once we add a human interpreter, the idea that God is loving or angry or lonely become as natural as the idea that angels have two legs. We can understand our god-concepts only if we understand ourselves.
In religion, people make guesses about what is real based on highly ambiguous evidence. If the evidence weren't ambiguous, there wouldn't be so many disagreements -- literally thousands of branches of Christianity alone. But those same ambiguities that make it so hard to come to any agreement about God make religion very interesting from the standpoint of understanding our own psychology. In some ways, the concept of God is like an ink-blot test. The blot is there, but what you see in it depends on who you are.
Please click on "external source" below for the complete article, titled "God's Emotions: Why the Biblical God is so Human."
From The Urantia Book:
"...The "image of God" does not refer to physical likeness nor to the circumscribed limitations of material creature endowment but rather to the gift of the spirit presence of the Universal Father in the supernal bestowal of the Thought Adjusters upon the humble creatures of the universes." 108:6.3
"All too long has man thought of God as one like himself. God is not, never was, and never will be jealous of man or any other being in the universe of universes. Knowing that the Creator Son intended man to be the masterpiece of the planetary creation, to be the ruler of all the earth, the sight of his being dominated by his own baser passions, the spectacle of his bowing down before idols of wood, stone, gold, and selfish ambition—these sordid scenes stir God and his Sons to be jealous for man, but never of him.
"The eternal God is incapable of wrath and anger in the sense of these human emotions and as man understands such reactions. These sentiments are mean and despicable; they are hardly worthy of being called human, much less divine; and such attitudes are utterly foreign to the perfect nature and gracious character of the Universal Father.">>>>>4:3.1