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The Psychology of the Bible


{Disclaimer: It is an audacious oversimplification for a psychologist to interpret the Bible in a short blog post.}


As a psychologist I have long held the belief that man made God in his own image (like only a man would do, right?). Sexism aside, the Bible really does reflect the nature of the human mind. Actually written by men, the Bible is a type of projection about God’s nature known as anthropomorphism, and in truth it reflects the fundamental nature of human love. More specifically, the Bible is a reflection of parental love.


Children need to be raised with two types of parental love. It doesn’t matter if they come from a traditional mother and father, a single mother or father, two mothers, or two fathers. Whatever their source, children need a love that controls them and a love that comforts them.


Parental authority helps children learn to control their natural instincts and impulses to hit, lie, steal, and covet thy neighbor's candy. It presses them to tend to their hygiene, homework, and chores. Without the love of parental control children would have rotting teeth, poor grades, little responsibility, and no friends.


Children need the love of parental comfort to help them cope with the painful realities of life and death. Life is hard, scary, hurtful, confusing, and unfair. They will be mistreated, screw up, get in trouble, feel guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed. So children need the love of understanding, empathy, compassion, acceptance, reassurance, and forgiveness. When working with parents I refer to the importance of providing their kids with a combination of firm love and soft love, and these are the two sides of God’s love reflected in the Bible.


God’s versions of firm love and soft love are roughly paralleled between the Bible’s Old Testament and the New Testament divisions. The Old Testament (OT) is sometimes referred to as “the law,” and this is where God's 613 commandments and the descriptions of dire consequences for violating God’s laws are detailed. The OT also includes stories of creation, history, and wisdom, but the nature of God portrayed in the OT closely resembles the nature of an authoritative father who expects to be obeyed. The OT emphasizes the firm love of God’s will.


The New Testament (NT) is the story of God’s son, the savior Jesus, who delivers teachings reflecting the soft love side of God’s nature, that consisting of compassion, empathy, forgiveness, mercy, and reassurance. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus clarifies that He did not come to abolish the laws but to fulfill them. In this sense Jesus resembles the traditional nurturing mother who explains that obeying father’s authority is important but that the kids remain loved even when they fail and fall short.


Parents and theologians share the struggle of how to best interpret the relationship between the firm love and the soft love, because on the surface they seem contradictory and incompatible. Dad argues that the kids are troubled because mom’s too soft on them, while mom counter-argues that the kids are troubled because dad’s too hard on them. The truth is that most kids become troubled when their parents fail to provide firm and soft love in united ways. Likewise, people of faith often get confused about the different descriptions of God they glean from the Bible. Is God a wrathful and punishing authority or is God a merciful and forgiving savior?


Reconciling the biblical and parenting differences between firm love and soft love needn’t be problematic. Stripped to its bare essentials, the unified message would go something like this: You need to obey these rules for getting along or there will be appropriate consequences. But no matter what, you’ll remain loved, and when you express genuine remorse you’ll be forgiven. What complicates this interpretation is that many of the consequences spelled out in the OT are anything but appropriate. It’s one thing to be banished from the Garden of Eden or brought to the verge of extinction by a massive flood, but then there are the biblical cruelties of being burned at the stake, stoned to death, hung, having limbs cut off, and crucifixion. Parents are admonished not to “spare the rod” lest they “spoil the child.” Yikes! - this hardly sounds loving or appropriate. The disciplinary methods of the OT obviously predated the more enlightened use of timeouts, groundings, and cell phone suspensions. These insanely abusive versions of God’s discipline make it obvious that they were the projections of less enlightened men. Still, God’s intentions for discipline are loving despite the OT’s barbaric representations of those intentions.


If present day men and women were to write an upgraded scripture representing God’s nature and will, perhaps the OT version of firm love authority would be far less cruel and terrifying. Perhaps there would be less confusion about how firm love and soft love are meant to go hand in hand. Perhaps people of faith would be more inspired to behave well without suffering the toxic effects of holy judgment, shame, and terror. And because many parents take the lessons of scripture seriously, perhaps their children would be more emotionally well adjusted. And wouldn’t that just be divine?



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